India-UAE travel suspension: Charter flight operators clarify exemption rules
Stranded expats turn to business jets as air travel suspension between India and UAE is extended.
Demand for private or business jets is on the rise since the suspension of air travel between India and the UAE. Since April 25, some high net worth business travellers and their families have made the return journey to the UAE, according to private jet operators and travel agents.
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It is not immediately clear if regular stranded residents can pool resources and book a business jet. This form of travel had gained massive popularity among stranded Indian travellers last year after India closed all its scheduled international air operations.
Passenger entry from India to the UAE, one of the world’s busiest air corridors, was suspended on April 25 as Covid-19 cases in India reached record highs.
The only exemptions were UAE citizens, diplomats, official delegations, golden residency visa holders, and flights of businessmen.
All exemptions are subject to approval from the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).
Khaled Jarrar, account manager and private jet and helicopter charter at Air Charter Services (ACS), said, “There is demand, but approvals are subject to a case-to-case basis. Business jets are allowed to operate, and we have done 2-3 flights since the suspension. The clientele is mostly high net worth individuals who can afford to book a private jet.”
However, ACS has not been accepting enquiries from non-business travellers or stranded residents, who want to pool resources to make it on flights to the UAE.
“Either way, the travel is subject to approval from the GCAA. It takes anything between three to five business days for the approvals to come through. We submit passenger particulars, which include passports and other details,” said Jarrar.
In an earlier statement to Khaleej Times, a GCAA official had clarified that business travellers could not use the exemption for chartering large numbers of passengers from India to the UAE.
Exempted travellers must also take a PCR test at the airport and on the fourth and the eighth day after they enter the Emirates and undergo quarantine upon arrival.
However, given the massive demand, travel agencies are now preparing the documents to apply for such operations to the GCAA.
Raheesh Babu, the general manager of Musafir.com, an internet-based travel agency, said the demand from stranded residents in India is currently very high. “The pooling system for business jets works when a group of travellers pay for each seat on the jet, and based on the number of passengers, we arrange a private jet,” he explained.
According to Babu, there is a lot of demand from stranded expatriates in Kochi and Lucknow, for example.
“Yet, there is a lack of clarity on whether tourist visa holders can travel. Many residents want to bring their aged parents to the UAE, given the dire situation in India. There is also a demand from corporates who want to bring their stranded staff back into the UAE. They are weighing their options at the moment,” said Babu. He said everything depended on the GCAA approvals.
The cost, in this case, is anything between Dh12,000 to Dh15,000 per passenger. “This is the first pooling requirement we are submitting to the GCAA this year. We are targeting a May 8 return for the passengers,” stated Babu.
However, according to some operators, it is still too early for demand to boom like it did in April- May 2020.
“It has been only a few days since the suspension. Suppose it is extended further than May 15. In that case, I presume more passengers will get desperate, and the demand for this form of travel will increase substantially,” said another Dubai-based charter flight operator.
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