Indian ‘air bubble’ gives new life to Bangladeshi patients


It has been a ‘painful’ seven months wait for Mohammed Wahiduzzaman until Wednesday when he has been able to travel to India for medical treatment under a new ‘air bubble’ mechanism.

“I had my spine surgery in Chennai, but I could not follow that up properly. It was a painful wait for me. But thanks India that I can go to Chennai today,” he told Bangladesh Post at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport as Bangladesh and India restored air connectivity between the countries.

For Saifa Zaman from Chattogram, it was a ‘great relief’. A cancer survivor, she has been taking treatment in India for 12 years. But due to the pandemic, she could not go to the Chennai hospital in the last seven months.

“I had my visa. But suddenly due to pandemic, all links have been cut. I suffered a lot. Today I am happy that I can go to Chennai for my treatment,” she told Bangladesh Post.

A US-Bangla airline regular commercial flight from Dhaka to Kolkata took off from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) at 9:45am as the first flight under an ‘air bubble’. The airline also operated Dhaka-Chennai-Dhaka flight at 10:30am.

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami, and Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAAB) Chairman Air-Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman saw the Kolkata bound passengers off at the Airport.

The CAAB chairman thanked India for restoring the connectivity using the air bubble. “We are lucky that India has given us the scope to run the flights,” he said.

The scheduled international flights to and from India have been under suspension since March 23.

Under the air bubble mechanism, air connectivity was restored between only Bangladesh and India where no third country will be involved that means the airlines will not take any transit passengers.

India has already introduced such an air bubble mechanism with numbers of countries like France, Germany, the UAE and Maldives whereas this is first in its kind for Bangladesh.

As per the arrangement, three Bangladeshi airlines — Biman Bangladesh Airlines, US-Bangla Airlines, and Novo Air — will initially operate 28 flights a week while five Indian carriers — Air India, Vistara, IndiGo, SpiceJet, and GoAir — will run the same number of flights in a week.

Five Indian airlines will operate flights on Delhi-Dhaka-Delhi, Kolkata-Dhaka-Kolkata, Chennai-Dhaka-Chennai and Mumbai-Dhaka-Mumbai routes.

Apart from patients, without such an arrangement, students from Bangladesh who have been admitted for higher studies to universities in Europe were unable to apply for their visas, as countries including Estonia, Belgium and Latvia do not provide visa consular services in Dhaka.

These students who would then have to make their way to New Delhi to complete their application process are unable to travel to New Delhi.

On October 9, the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh announced resumption of online visa application services for Bangladeshi citizens.

For now, visas will be provided in nine categories including medical, business, employment, journalists, diplomatic, personal, officials, UN officials, and UN diplomats, said the Bangladesh foreign ministry.

The Indian High Commissioner hopes to start tourist visas in Bangladesh soon.

“From the High Commission we will do all to put our visa services back to the highest possible level,” Doraiswami said at the airport. “We hope to start the tourist visa services soon”.

But all will depend on the pandemic situation. “We cannot give any date. It’s an evolutionary process. It depends on the pandemic situation,” he said, adding that India would do whatever is necessary to help Bangladeshi friends.

“We have constraints. We do have a pandemic still going on. Let’s see how quickly we can start it,” he said, when asked about the tourist visa.

“People-to-people connection is the primary bond between our countries,” he said.

The national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh airlines will resume its India operation through its New Delhi flight from Thursday.