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HomeNewsIndia rejects china's calls to resume direct flight services after four years

India rejects china’s calls to resume direct flight services after four years

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China is urging India to restart direct passenger flights after a four-year halt, but India is resisting due to ongoing border tensions, officials said.

India-China relations have been strained since a major military confrontation on their disputed Himalayan border in June 2020, which resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian and at least four Chinese soldiers. Thousands of troops remain mobilized on both sides.

Since the clash, India has restricted Chinese investments, banned numerous popular apps, and cut off passenger flights, although direct cargo flights continue between the two countries.

Direct flights would benefit both economies, but the stakes are higher for China, which is struggling to recover its overseas travel sector post-COVID-19, while India’s aviation industry is thriving.

Over the past year, China’s government and airlines have repeatedly asked India’s civil aviation authorities to re-establish direct air links, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. One source described this as a “big issue” for China.

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“We hope the Indian side will work with China in the same direction for the early resumption of direct flights,” China’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters, adding that resuming flights would benefit both countries.

However, a senior Indian official said, “Unless there is peace and tranquillity on the border, the rest of the relationship cannot move forward.”

Indian airlines are in discussions with New Delhi, while Chinese carriers are talking to their government about resuming direct routes, said Pieter Elbers, CEO of IndiGo, India’s largest airline.

India’s external affairs and civil aviation ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

Beijing has protested India’s increased scrutiny of Chinese businesses since 2020. Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi told India’s government this year that “confidence building” measures were needed, citing compliance and visa issues.

Direct India-China flights peaked in December 2019, with 539 scheduled flights, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. Chinese carriers scheduled 371 of these flights, more than double the 168 by India’s airlines.

Flights were halted four months later due to the pandemic. Except for a few COVID repatriation flights, they have not resumed, even though India lifted COVID restrictions on international air routes a year later and China lifted all COVID travel measures in early 2023.

Travelers must now change planes in Hong Kong, Dubai, or Singapore, extending the India-China journey from under six hours to over 10, benefiting carriers like Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Pacific.

China’s overseas travel recovery is slow due to rising costs and visa difficulties.

IndiGo’s Elbers said, “When the time is right and the governments come to a mutual understanding of how to move forward, we’ll assess the market.”

IndiGo flies seven times a week on the Delhi-Hong Kong route, where passengers can connect to mainland China.

Air India CEO Campbell Wilson said direct India-China flights “would seem to be a huge potential market” but noted there are factors at play “beyond our level.”

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