The US Transportation Department has accused India of using the evacuation process of its stranded citizens for commercial purposes by selling tickets to the public and at the same time imposing restrictions on US airlines, leading to competitive disadvantage.
Ankur Bhatia, aviation expert and executive director of Bird group, says that the practice of charging fare to passengers is ethical as the large-scale evacuation process cannot happen without financial inflow.
“Air India is operating to bring people back but at the same time they are using the charter flights to ferry people from India to US,” Bhatia told Sputnik claiming that the practice does not count as repatriation as many of the flights going out of India are flying empty and the passengers are charged to fill the gap.
He explained that the issue with the US is not the charging of passengers but that the flights claim to be part of a repatriation mission.
“Air travel between the two countries has to be agreed bilaterally. I am sure India and the US will reach an agreement in due course,” Bhatia said.
India started a repatriation operation, the "Vande Bharat Mission", on 7 May to bring back its citizens stranded abroad with the help of warships and aircraft. More than 2,50,087 Indian nationals have been brought back home.
The US objected to India imposing restriction on US airlines from 25 March and conducting lndia-US passenger charter operations through direct sales to individual passengers or through other distribution systems.
“Air India has been conducting self-described evacuation between India and the United States in both directions since May 18, 2020. Air India's so-called evacuation charters have gone beyond true evacuations (at least on the India to the United States segments) and involved sales to any member of the general public able to enter the United States,” stated the US Transportation Department.
It stated that restrictive and discriminatory treatment of U.S. carriers is resulting in a competitive imbalance and violating a treaty governing aviation between the two countries.
Responding to the restrictions imposed by the US, India's Ministry of Civil Aviation stated that one round of negotiations was held on 15 June with representatives of the Department of Transportation and US Embassy and they were invited to submit precise proposals in this respect.
Adding that the ministry is also considering bilateral arrangements with France, Germany, UK as they requested to allow their airlines to participate in the repatriation process.
"As we contemplate further opening up in response to demands, we are looking at the prospect of establishing individual bilateral bubbles, India-US, India-France, India-Germany, India-UK. These are all destinations where demand for travel has not diminished,’ stated the Aviation Ministry on Tuesday.