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India’s No To China’s Call For A Resumption Of Direct Flights Amid Border Faceoff

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China is urging India to restart direct passenger flights after a four-year suspension. But, there has been no Government decision due to the border standoff, now in its fourth year.

India has repeatedly said there can be no normalisation of other ties until peace and tranquility is resumed in the border areas. In June 2020, in clashes in Galwan, at least 20 Indian soldiers and some reports suggest up to 40 Chinese troops were killed. Both countries have maintained tens of thousands of troops in the region since the clashes.

Economic Impact and Bilateral Discussions

China, struggling to revive its overseas travel sector post-COVID-19, stands to gain more than India, where the aviation industry is flourishing. Over the past year, China has repeatedly requested India’s civil aviation authorities to re-establish direct air links, considering it a “big issue.”

China’s Foreign Ministry recently emphasised the mutual benefits of resuming flights. It said, “We hope the Indian side will work with China in the same direction for the early resumption of direct flights.”

However, a senior Indian official stressed that peace and tranquillity at the border are prerequisites for advancing the broader relationship. Indian airlines, including Indigo, are in discussions with New Delhi, while Chinese carriers are negotiating with their government to resume direct routes.

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Historical Context and Current Scenario

Direct flights between India and China peaked in December 2019, with a total of 539 scheduled flights. Chinese carriers accounted for 371 of these flights, more than double the 168 operated by Indian airlines. However, flights were halted in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since lifting COVID-19 travel restrictions, India and China have not resumed direct passenger routes. That forces travellers to take longer journeys via hubs like Hong Kong, Dubai, or Singapore.

The lack of direct flights has extended travel times from under six hours to over ten, benefiting airlines like Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Pacific, which offer connecting flights.

Industry and Government Reactions

Beijing has also been protesting against India’s increased scrutiny of Chinese businesses since 2020. Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi highlighted the need for “confidence building” measures. It cited concerns over compliance and visa issues.

Indigo’s CEO Pieter Elbers indicated that the airline is prepared to assess the market when the time is right. So clearly, the resumption of direct flights depends on mutual government agreements. Currently, IndiGo operates a Delhi-Hong Kong route, providing connections to mainland China. Air India CEO Campbell Wilson acknowledged the potential market for direct India-China flights but noted that current circumstances are beyond the airline’s control.

(With Inputs from Reuters)