The US Department of Transportation (DoT) has issued an order on June 22 requiring Indian airlines to apply to the DoT for statements of authorisation prior to conducting charter services to the US.
The DoT said it "is taking this action because the Government of India is engaging in unfair and discriminatory practices with respect to charter air transportation services to and from India."
It said India has approved Indian airlines to operate repatriation charter services between India and the US, but will not permit US carriers to operate services between the two countries.
“The U.S. Government views this situation, in which Indian carriers may perform charters services that US carriers may not, and the resulting competitive imbalance, as inconsistent with US carrier rights under Article 11 and Annex II of the Agreement,” the US said calling out the move as "restrictive and discriminatory treatment" against US airlines.
The order will come into effect after 30 days and as per the order, from then on, Air India will have to seek permission from the US government, 30 days prior to operating a repatriation flight date and 10 days prior to operating a cargo flight.
The DoT said it "is willing to reconsider this action once all applicable restrictions on US carrier rights cease to be applied to US carriers, and a level playing field has been restored".
The department also noted that Air India is advertising flights that would constitute a rate of 53% of the scheduled services it operated before the onset of coronavirus.
Given this, and the fact that the airline is selling tickets for the repatriation charter services, the US side said: "the charters go beyond true repatriations."
"It appears that Air India may be using repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the GoI-imposed prohibition of scheduled services," the DoT added.
Indian media reported that at least 1.25 million Indians have so far come back on these evacuation flights, while about 43,000 have flown out of India.
Air India has operated a number of these repatriation flights to and from the US as part of its "Vande Bharat" mission.