Airlines with less than the currently stipulated five-year domestic flying experience may soon be allowed to operate on international routes, benefiting carriers such as Kingfisher Airlines, Air Deccan and others with ambitions to fly to overseas destinations, but held back by the rule.
The civil aviation ministry has suggested that the rule be removed and approvals be granted on a case-by-case basis. This is part of the new civil aviation policy named ‘Vision 2020’ likely to be considered by the cabinet this week.
“If approved in its entirety, it will not be mandatory to have certain years of experience for plying international routes,” said a civil aviation ministry official, who asked not to be named because a final decision is pending cabinet approval. “The nitty-gritty of the rules will be worked out by DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation).”
The ministry is likely to give approvals for global routes based on the airline’s capacity and traffic on a given route, the official said. A similar arrangement works in the domestic sector with carriers allotted routes ahead of every winter and summer season.
Currently, only state-owned National Aviation Co. of India Ltd’s Air India, including Indian Airlines and Air India Express, and Jet Airways (India) Ltd, which also runs the newly-acquired Air Sahara, have been flying high-traffic international routes in Southeast Asia, West Asia, Europe and the US.
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel, earlier this month, had said that the government was looking at reviewing global flight norms by the year-end given the number of foreign carriers coming into India under the various bilateral agreements. India has air services agreements with more than 100 countries, but since only a handful of Indian carriers fly abroad, they don’t often result in reciprocity. The new policy raises the prospect that rules may now be reviewed earlier than the year-end deadline.
If the cabinet clears the proposal, a direct beneficiary will be Kingfisher Airlines, owned by liquor magnate Vijay Mallya-run UB Group. “It looks like we will be able to do it within our rights now,” said Kingfisher’s chief financial officer A. Raghunathan. He said the airline has appointed a US attorney to obtain Federal Aviation Administration approvals for a Bangalore-San Francisco flight it expects to start in April.
Lifting of the five-year experience norm could mean stiffer competition for Jet, which earlier this month launched a US flight via Brussels.
It could also mean competition for Air India on the lucrative Gulf sector. Air Deccan and SpiceJet are keen to fly on the profitable Gulf routes and to Southeast Asia while regional carriers such as Chennai-based Paramount Airways Pvt. Ltd say they will work on exploiting domestic opportunities in the immediate term.