New Delhi: In an attempt to prevent airlines from squatting on international and domestic routes allotted to them, the aviation ministry has asked carriers to explain why they aren’t flying on many of the sectors/routes that they have been granted. The ministry plans to reallocate routes in case it’s not convinced by the airlines’ arguments.
To fly international routes, airlines need permission from the ministry—under what are called bilateral rights with other countries. The routes are allotted on the basis of the number of seats available on various flight sectors. The ministry’s permission is also required to fly domestic routes, based on the number of slots available at various airports every summer and winter.
The ministry has written to several airlines, including Jet Airways (India) Ltd and Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, to explain their operational plans for routes they have been allotted and are not flying, said a civil aviation ministry official, who didn’t want to be named.
Operational plans: Kingfisher Airlines had received permission to fly Mumbai-Singapore, Mumbai-Hong Kong and several other routes from winter 2008-09, but is yet to start operations on many of them. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The airlines have been asked why they were blocking the routes they have acquired, this official said, adding that the ministry had acted after conducting a study of several routes it had granted on the request of airlines and which had remained unused.
For example, Kingfisher Airlines, which launched its international operations last year, acquired permission to fly Mumbai-Hong Kong, Mumbai-Singapore and several other routes from winter 2008-09, but is yet to start operations on many of them.
On 11 July, Kingfisher announced that it will start operating on some of the routes later this year.
“Beginning September 2009, Kingfisher Airlines plans to launch two new flights. The two new routes will be Mumbai–Singapore and Mumbai–Hong Kong,” the airline said in a statement.
Jet Airways secured rights to fly to at least a dozen destinations, including Singapore, Brussels, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the US, but is yet to start flights to several of them.
“That is a monopolistic thing; you take a route and not fly. Once you take a route, then you should fly,” said Sanat Kaul, former representative of India to the International Civil Aviation Organization, and a former civil servant in the aviation ministry. “Of course, they will say there was an economic depression, but the point is you made a commitment.”
Airlines have curtailed flights and scaled down expansion plans as they struggle with declining traffic during the economic downturn.
A senior Jet Airways official, who didn’t want to be named, said he couldn’t confirm if the airline had received the ministry’s letter. He said the airline had cut some non-profitable routes over the past few months, but was also launching flights to West Asia. “We have only curtailed the Mumbai-Shanghai-San Francisco, Amritsar-London and Bangalore-Brussels (routes),” the official said.
Kingfisher, in its 11 July statement, said it had also sought permission from the civil aviation ministry for flying several new routes, including New Delhi-Bangkok, New Delhi-Dubai and New Delhi-London this fiscal year.
The aviation ministry official said it is still to receive any application from Kingfisher for operating on the additional routes. The ministry will wait for all the airlines to explain their case for not flying routes already granted to them before approving any new requests, he said.
According to government regulations, if an airline doesn’t start flights on routes it has applied for and been granted within a given winter or summer, the permissions would lapse. Airlines then have to seek extensions.
Kaul, who during his stint at the aviation ministry was involved in granting airlines the right to ply routes they had sought, said the ministry needs to put in place a clear system on how the rights should be awarded and what should be done if they are not utilized.
“The idea is that bilaterals are sovereign rights. They belong to the country. So, it’s for the sovereign to decide who to give it to and whether to give it to someone else if a certain carrier is not using it. They have to devise a system like (the) UK and other countries,” he said.
The civil aviation ministry plans to do just that. Routes unused by airlines both on international and domestic sectors will be reallocated to other “eligible domestic carriers where possible”, said a second official at the aviation ministry, who also did not want to be named.
Smaller airline firms such as SpiceJet Ltd and Paramount Airways Pvt. Ltd, which become eligible to fly international routes from next year, may benefit from such a move.