New Delhi: In a move that would increase international flights from India, the civil aviation ministry last week decided to partially lift a freeze on granting overseas flying rights, two ministry officials close to the development said.
Jet Airways (India) Ltd and Kingfisher Airlines Ltd—the country’s largest and only private carriers allowed to fly international—are set to benefit from the decision, though rights to lucrative sectors such as London and Hong Kong may remain out of bounds.
The ministry grants international routes based on negotiations between the two governments involved.
Air India, run by state-owned National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, had earlier in 2009 sought a freeze on granting new routes to both Indian and foreign airlines, claiming the excess capacity in the market hurt its interests.
In the last four years, the aviation ministry had granted as many as 400,000 seats to carriers flying into and out of India, of which foreign airlines command a 64% share. The number of passengers flying to and from India rose to nearly 26 million in 2008, from 20 million some two years earlier.
Air India’s share of this market had declined from 27% in fiscal 2007 to 23.55% in fiscal 2009, the carrier’s estimates show. Jet Airways claimed an 11.27% share in fiscal 2009 and Kingfisher Airlines 1.66%, according to data from the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
“They should be allowed to fly. There are so many off-beat destinations they can go to. We are not going to stop them,” one of the ministry officials mentioned earlier said. The aviation ministry has started granting rights depending on the sector, he added.
Jet Airways in October won the rights to fly the four-hour route between New Delhi and Tehran, Iran, he said. So far, only Iranian carriers Mahan Air and IranAir have been flying directly to India.
Jet has also been granted rights to fly from Mumbai to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu in addition to its daily New Delhi-Kathmandu flights. Kingfisher, too, has won new rights to fly from both New Delhi and Mumbai to Kathmandu.
A Jet spokeswoman said the airline was “constantly evaluating new routes and destinations” and would make an announcement after the plans are firmed up.
A Kingfisher official, who asked not be named, said the airline would launch the flights to Kathmandu in a month.
Kingfisher also wants to start flights this winter to Dubai and Bangkok from New Delhi and Mumbai. It has also sought to fly New Delhi-London and New Delhi-Hong Kong.
None of these requests has been cleared yet, said the second ministry official, who also didn’t want to be named. He added that airlines would be allowed new flights based on two parameters—under-served routes; and routes in which Air India would have ample seats available even after private carriers are granted rights on those sectors.
Among foreign carriers, only Qatar Airways has been awarded additional rights in recent months to fly non-stop between Doha and Amritsar and to Goa. The airline started services to these two Indian cities in October.