China is urging India to resume direct passenger flights after a four-year break, though India is hesitant due to ongoing border tensions. The strain arises from a major military clash in June 2020 that resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese soldiers, with thousands of troops still deployed along the border.

Since the clash, India has restricted Chinese investments, banned numerous apps, and halted passenger flights between the two countries, though cargo flights continue. Both economies could benefit from resuming direct flights, but the stakes are higher for China, where international travel recovery post-COVID-19 has lagged compared to India’s booming aviation sector.

Over the past year, China’s government and airlines have approached India’s civil aviation authorities to restore direct air links. China’s Foreign Ministry stated, “We hope the Indian side will work with China for the early resumption of direct flights,” highlighting mutual benefits.

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

Indian airlines, including Indigo, and Chinese carriers are discussing the feasibility of resuming direct routes. Indigo CEO, Pieter Elbers said, “When the time is right and the governments come to a mutual understanding, we’ll assess the market.”

Direct flights between India and China peaked in December 2019, with 539 scheduled flights, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. Chinese carriers accounted for 371 flights, while Indian airlines scheduled 168. These flights were halted in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite lifting international travel restrictions a year later in India and early 2023 in China, direct flights have not resumed, except for minimal COVID-19 repatriation flights. Travelers now rely on connecting flights through hubs like Hong Kong, Dubai, or Singapore, extending travel time from less than six hours to upwards of 10 and diverting business to carriers such as Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Pacific.

Air India, CEO Campbell Wilson added, “Direct India-China flights would seem to be a huge potential market, but for now there are factors at play beyond our level.”