The ministry of civil aviation has found breaches of the air bubble agreement put in place between India and the United Arab Emirates by some UAE airlines that carried unauthorised transit passengers from India.
A transport bubble or air bubble arrangement is a temporary arrangement between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger services when regular international flights are suspended as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are reciprocal in nature, meaning airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits and are subject to similar restrictions.
Under the agreement, airlines are only allowed to carry passengers between the two countries and not beyond. India has put in place air bubble agreements with several countries in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to a suspension of international flights
In a letter to the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the UAE earlier this month, the ministry of civil aviation wrote: “We are in receipt of reports of violation of the provisions of air bubble arrangement by UAE carriers by carrying unauthorized transit passengers”.
HT has seen a copy of the letter, which reads: “We would further request you inform the UAE carriers to ensure that the revised provisions of the air bubble arrangement are followed in true spirit”.
Arun Kumar, director general of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), confirmed this. “We have acted upon such inputs and the airlines concerned have been advised and reprimanded,” Kumar said.
A second official who is aware of the development said the motive for violating the arrangements to fly transit passengers beyond the UAE to farther destinations may be to earn a profit.
“UAE carriers have been carrying hundreds of passengers every day from India, since the air bubble agreement between the two countries was set up in July this year,” making the Dubai to Delhi and Mumbai routes among the busiest in the world amid the pandemic, the official said.
HT sent a detailed mail to the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the UAE seeking their response. The authorities hadn’t responded until Monday night.
Point number 21, rule A,on the website of the civil aviation ministry mentions that under the air bubble arrangement, UAE and Indian airlines operating flights between the two countries can carry UAE nationals and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority-approved UAE residents.
A senior official from the ministry of civil aviation, requesting anonymity, said that under an air bubble arrangement, any airline operating between two countries can only carry passengers from point to point.
“No airline can accept transit passengers. For example, if an airline is operating from India to the UAE, it cannot accept on-board a passenger not destined to the UAE (passengers with a visa for any country other than the UAE). However, if a passenger goes to the UAE and then books another flight to travel further, the airline cannot be held responsible,” the officer said.
Dr Lalit Kant, former head of the department of epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said the significance of putting such a rule in place is to ensure that these passengers do not move beyond point-to-point travel.
“These restrictions are imposed so that these passengers can be tracked easily and the government can keep a tab on them if required. In any case it is observed that some of them are carrying infection, appropriate action can be taken only if they are following the rules,” Kant said.
Aviation expert Mark D Martin said such a violation was bound to happen. “Air bubble arrangement has many loopholes. Airlines will always want to focus on revenue. Airlines will offer what the consumer wants and even if the transit means two days in a hotel in Dubai and then an onward journey, it is still circumventing the law,” he said.