The ministry of civil aviation has permitted low-cost carrier GoAir Pvt. Ltd to continue operations with a fleet of four aircraft, one short of the mandated minimum five-plane size for fleets of commercial passenger airline firms in the country, after the Mumbai carrier said one of its planes has been sent abroad for maintenance.
Current norms by the civil aviation ministry, which were upgraded in the year to prevent fly-by-night operators from entering the business, require a scheduled domestic carrier to have equity of at least Rs50 crore and a minimum fleet of five aircraft—either leased or owned—to keep their licence.
An airline can start operations with just one plane but needs to have at least five within a year.
There are currently eight scheduled airlines in India, all of which run fleets with more than five planes each. Indus Airways Pvt. Ltd closed operations earlier this year over a dispute with lessors of its two leased planes.
“I have got permission to run it (the airline) on a variable (fleet) basis,” said Jeh Wadia, managing director of the Mumbai airline. “There’s no way we can manage so many aircraft given the existing infrastructure.”
The civil aviation ministry confirmed it has granted “special permission” to the Wadia group-run airline, which operates 396 weekly flights and has about 3% market share. “The government has the powers to look at it on a case-to-case basis,” a senior official at aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation said. GoAir’s fifth plane is under maintenance for the past three months, added this official, who didn’t want his name disclosed.
Most private Indian carriers send their aircraft for specialized maintenance to countries in West Asia and South-East Asia that have full-fledged maintenance facilities.
There are four kinds of checks that an aircraft goes through during its lifecycle. The ‘A’ check which is a routine airport check, the ‘B’ check that’s done every three months, the ‘C’ check which comes after an year, and finally a comprehensive ‘D’ check which has the aircraft dismantled and rebuilt.
It was not immediately clear what kind of maintenance checks GoAir had sent its aircraft for. Mark Tender, a spokesman for GE Commercial Aviation Services, from whom the Mumbai carrier has leased most of its A320 planes, declined to comment. But, according to aviation consultancy Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, even the heavy D-check takes a maximum of a month to complete and occurs after long years of service by an airplane, depending on its age and flight history.
Until last year, GoAir was using seven aircraft but returned two of them back to the lessors with mounting losses and lack of adequate airport infrastructure. Wadia said he was in favour of more aircraft only during peak season.
GoAir has ordered 10 Airbus A320s with options for another 10 planes. Deliveries are to start in October and the airline has said it plans to sell and lease back these planes to increase cash flows.