MDLR Airlines Pvt. Ltd, a regional carrier that has been flouting Indian aviation rules by offering commercial services on a charter licence, has removed the schedule of its flights from a company website even as the civil aviation ministry now plans to amend norms making it difficult for operators to bypass its guidelines.
Last week, after Mint asked the ministry to clarify how the charter operator was being allowed to run commercial airline services, aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued a warning to Gurgaon-based MDLR Airlines to stop publishing the schedule of its services between New Delhi, Chandigarh and Ranchi as it was not licensed to do so.
Currently, 13 regular airlines in the country, such as Jet Airways and Air Deccan, are allowed to publish their flight schedules. But about three times that number, granted licences as non-scheduled operators, cannot do so. As a first step, MDLR, owned by realtor Murli Dhar Lakh Ram Developers and Promoters Pvt. Ltd, has agreed to deactivate a link with the schedule on its official website, www.mdlrairlines.in, said a senior civil aviation ministry official who did not want to be named. Indeed, late on Tuesday, the web link was generating, “the page cannot be found” message.
Before the advisory was issued on 14 May, the airline had renamed the link to ‘Time Schedule’ from the earlier ‘Flight Schedule’ and carried details of flights to its three destinations that the passengers could fly to.
“It is a new airline and has made some mistakes,” the civil aviation official said. “Still, some discrepancies have been found. The matter is being taken up with them.”
For example, through Tuesday morning, some of MDLR's connecting flights to Ranchi, from Delhi via Chandigarh, were listed on the site for a month-end booking. It is also not clear whether the airline will be allowed to book e-tickets under the name of e-receipts, which can later be swapped for a boarding pass.
Some confusion comes from provisions under civil aviation rules that have become redundant since they were prepared in October 1999 or did not take into account technological advances, such as e-ticketing, not available at that time, noted the ministry official. Such loopholes need to be plugged in the rules and they will be amended, he maintained.
Koustav Dhar, president of commercial projects at MDLR, said it had still not received any notice from the ministry. “We keep on having verbal discussions with the DGCA and civil aviation ministry on a day-to-day basis,” he said, declining additional comment. Questions emailed to the company were not answered.
About 14 new airlines, including MDLR, have asked for scheduled operator permits but these are pending approval, given the crowded infrastructure at airports. Civil aviation minister Praful Patel said last fortnight that no “serious player” is awaiting approval and the ministry is studying the financial strength of the pending applicants.
The paid-up capital requirements—which were revised this year—for starting a non-scheduled operation is Rs1 crore, that of a regional scheduled carrier is Rs20 crore and for a scheduled operator, it is Rs50 crore.
Kapil Kaul, a New Delhi-based analyst with the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, said it was critical that airlines with charter permissions do not operate as scheduled carriers given India’s crowded skies. “The execution and interpretation of these rules is an issue (in the case of MDLR) but there are enough provisions... for the regulator to implement.”
A ministry spokeswoman said the civil aviation administration had already taken note of how some players were breaking licence rules. “The ministry is in the process of making necessary changes in the existing rules so that the necessities are taken care of and norms not flouted,” she said, without providing details.