Dubai: Indian missions and airlines were awaiting official confirmation on the extension of the agreement for India-UAE special flights, even as another 123 flights to repatriate stranded Indians from the UAE were announced on Sunday.
As per the agreement announced by the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation on July 9, UAE residents stuck in India could return on the departure leg of repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) that flies home stranded Indians in the UAE, from July 12 to 26.
UAE residents and citizens stranded in India could also fly back on the return leg of the journey on UAE carriers and private airlines from India providing chartered services during the 15 days of the special agreement.
However, with the deadline expiring on July 26, there was no official announcement about the extension of the agreement till 3.30pm, even as India announced a new schedule of flights under the next phase of VBM.
123 VBM flights till August 15
A senior official with Air India confirmed to Gulf News that 123 VBM flights (118 by Air India Express and five by Air India) have been announced as part of the fifth phase of the repatriation mission, running from August 1 to 15.
“The five Air India flights are scheduled during the first week of August while the 118 Air India Express flights are scheduled during the first fortnight of August,” he said.
However, the official said the airlines were yet to receive official instructions on the extension of the special flight agreement to fly back UAE residents stuck in India and hence could not make any commitment on India-UAE operations.
No official instruction yet
“We are working on opening ticket sales for the VBM flights from the UAE to India. We can start booking for the tickets from India to the UAE on these flights only when we get official instruction for that,” he clarified.
The Indian Consulate in Dubai said it was also awaiting confirmation about the extension of the India-UAE special flight agreement.
“We can confirm that the repatriation flights under Vande Bharat Mission operated by Air India and Air India Express as well as chartered services for repatriation by UAE and Indian carriers are continuing. While the status quo remains on the UAE-India flights, we are awaiting confirmation on India-UAE operations,” said Neeraj Agrawal, Consul for Press, Information and Culture.
Gulf News had earlier highlighted the plea from UAE residents stranded in India for the extension of the special flight agreement. They had cited that many people could not travel due to various reasons, including stringent rules related to approvals for return and practical difficulties in getting COVID-19 PCR test certificates in time.
Phase 5 of VBM
Meanwhile, India’s Minister of Civil Aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri, tweeted on Saturday that 814,000 passengers have returned to India “through various means” as part of VBM.
Over 270,000 have returned on Air India, Air India Express and private Indian carriers since VBM’s commencement on May 6, he said.
“VBM, the mission of hope, continues to soar and facilitate inbound and outbound international travel of stranded Indian citizens. I am happy to announce that we are further ramping up VBM and have decided to go ahead with Phase-5 from August 1 to 31, 2020. The detailed schedule will be shared soon,” he tweeted, announcing the extension of the repatriation mission till the end of next month.