The US Department of Transport (DOT) has reportedly restricted Air India from operating repatriation charter flights from the country.

During the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, India’s flag carrier has been operating special flights under the government’s Vande Bharat mission to repatriate its citizens.

US airlines are currently prohibited from flying charter flights to India.

The department has alleged that India ‘impaired the operating rights of US carriers and has engaged in discriminatory and restrictive practices with respect to US carrier services’.

It also accused that the airline sold tickets directly to the general public and violated an agreement between the two countries.

The DOT in the order said: “As such, it appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the GoI-imposed prohibition of all scheduled services.

“This situation, in which Indian airlines are permitted to perform services pursuant to their rights under the agreement while US carriers are not, creates a competitive disadvantage for US carriers vis-à-vis Indian carriers, in contravention of the fair and equal opportunity to compete for provision of Article 11 of the agreement.”

According to the DOT order, prior approval is required to operate the flights to or from the US.

The restriction on special flights from India comes a week after the DOT relaxed the operational restrictions it placed against Chinese airlines, allowing four weekly round-trips to the US.

In March, India planned a relief package of up to $1.6bn for the aviation sector as the pandemic affected flight demand.