Indian government has signed bilateral agreements with the US and France thereby allowing airlines of each country to resume and operate international flight services starting this Friday, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Thursday, during a media briefing. He went on to add that similar arrangements to resume flight services from India to Germany and the UK are also currently underway. "Till international civil aviation can reclaim its pre-COVID numbers, I think the answer lies in bilateral air bubbles which will carry a possible number of people but under defined conditions as countries are still imposing entry restrictions including India," the minister said. 

American airline carrier United Airlines will resume operations with 18 flights being flown between India and the US from July 17 to July 31 while Air France will be operating 28 flights between Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Paris from July 18 to August 1. Mr Puri stated, "They (United) are flying a daily flight between Delhi and Newark and a thrice-a-week flight between Delhi and San Francisco,".

Minister Hardeep Singh Puri also stated that more such agreements with the UK are at present being planned under which two flights between Delhi and London would operate everyday. "We have got a request from Germans also. I think the arrangement with Lufthansa is almost done... We are processing that request," Mr Puri said. The Minister added, "Now we have many demands for air bubbles, but we need to be careful. We should permit that many only that we can handle,". Flights under these air bubbles from India to France and the US will be operated by Air India. 

The Civil Aviation Ministry's announcement today comes after the US had accused India a few weeks back of conducting "unfair and discriminatory practices" to run exclusive paid flights under its "Vande Bharat Mission", which brought back Indians from other countries. 

Scheduled international passenger flights in India have remained suspended since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. India resumed domestic passenger flight services on May 25 after a gap of nearly two months of suspension in order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Having said that, airlines resumed operations with a maximum 33 percent of their pre-COVID domestic flights after which those limits were increased by the Civil Aviation Ministry to 45 percent on June 26. Mr Puri said, "We are assuming that by the time Diwali comes this year, we would have 55-60 percent of pre-COVID domestic flights operating in India,".