Lufthansa has suspended all flights between Germany and India from September 30 to October 20. The airline made this decision after an unresolved dispute with the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Lufthansa had negotiated a ‘Bubble Agreement’ with the Indian authorities in July this year. At the time of signing the travel agreement, George Ettiyil, Lufthansa Group’s Senior Director for South Asia Sales, said –
The airline is offering more than 40 flights from Frankfurt and Munich to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore until the end of August, beyond which it hopes to formally apply for inbound flights to India in consultation with Indian authorities.”
Lufthansa was operating twenty-three (23) flights a week to India until September 30.
Air Bubble Agreements
India has negotiated ‘Air Bubble’ agreements with 13 countries so far, including the US, UK, UAE, Maldives, France, Germany, Canada, Qatar, Bahrain, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Japan. Oman and Singapore are the latest entrants in the list. Air bubbles allow designated airlines of the countries to operate a specified number of flights per week.
What Is the Dispute?
According to the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Arun Kumar –
As against Indian carriers operating three to four flights a week, Lufthansa operated twenty (20 flights a week. Despite this disparity, we offered to clear seven flights a week for Lufthansa, which was not accepted by them. Negotiations continue.”
The Agency further stated that travel restrictions imposed by Germany were putting Indian carriers at a disadvantage which resulted in “inequitable distribution of traffic in favour of Lufthansa“.
As per reports in the Indian Express, a senior government official said – “European carriers are operating sixth-freedom flights by carrying passengers from India to North American destinations and not allowing Air India to do the same.”
Air India is supposed to carry passengers whose final destination is Germany. With Visa restrictions still imposed by Germany, this traffic remains extremely low. Air India load factors are extremely poor on these sectors.
On the other hand, Lufthansa is allowed to carry transiting passengers to North America and other European destinations. Therefore, the airline has more number of flights and a higher load factor.
This is the primary objection of the Government of India.
Equitable Distribution of Flights Not Possible
According to Mark D Martin, CEO Martin Consulting –
Air bubbles only work when implemented between countries with similar infection levels. Germany can’t be expected to make concessions at a time when infection rates are spiking, and there’s no flattening of the curve in India.”
Germany has one of the lowest COVID-19 related death rates in Europe, whereas the cases in India were showing an exponential rise. The spread of the virus the primary reason for Lufthansa restricting Indian travellers to Germany.
What is still not clear is why these statistics are being quoted to restrict Air India from operating in a manner identical to Lufthansa. After all, both airlines have the same set of passengers and the same destinations.
COVID-19 Becomes a Reason to Bargain Flight Schedules
Countries are hesitating to restart regular flight services on international sectors. The apparent reason is the fear of the spread of the virus. According to Covidindia.org. The total active cases in India (October 2) are down to 942,412. The infected cases are continuously decreasing from September 16 onwards.
The active cases in Germany stand at 28,044 (Source – Worldmeters.info). These cases are on the rise, fearing a second wave of infections.
In the backdrop of the spreading pandemic, airlines are struggling to remain afloat. As International passenger traffic is down by over 80% on a year-on-year basis, airlines are grappling to get customers. No wonder, each government is supporting their national airlines.
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