New Delhi: The US aviation regulator has delayed permission to a code-sharing agreement between Jet Airways (India) Ltd and United Air Lines Inc. Meanwhile, it is preparing for a technical review of procedures at its Indian counterpart.
Code-sharing is a ticket-selling alliance that allows travellers to connect seamlessly to destinations on flights of more than one airline.
Jet Airways, the country’s largest airlines by passengers, has lodged a complaint against the delay at India’s civil aviation ministry, said a government official who did not want to be named.
Safety assessment: A file photo of a Jet Airways aircraft. In May, Jet Airways and United Air Lines had forged a frequent flyer tie-up and filed the code-share agreement with the US department of transportation. Sajjad Hussain / AFP
The delay by the US Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, could be a toughening of stance ahead of its review—expected to start late February—of infrastructure and safety procedures followed by India’s regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation,or DGCA.
FAA typically assesses aviation safety procedures in countries to review if regulators in those countries enforce benchmarks set by the International Civil Aviation Organization. India currently enjoys a so-called category I status.
That’s why the delay in code-share permissions is surprising, the official said, adding that India intends to take this up through diplomatic channels.
An expert welcomed the FAA move to review procedures. “It’s a blessing...gives the needed push to get on the ball and improve matters,” said Robey Lal, former India country head of International Air Transport Association. “Its certainly a blessing for the passengers that we have at least someone looking into the aviation safety when the Indian aviation professionals are not doing so.”
An FAA spokeswoman declined to comment on the code-sharing agreement but confirmed her agency’s plans to conduct an audit.
“The FAA plans to do an IASA (international aviation safety assessment) review but I wouldn’t stick to that date (22 February)... It may change,” Alison Duquette said in an email from Washington, DC.
If after the review the FAA downgrades its safety standards rating for India, no new services by Indian carriers can be started to the US. Also, according to the rules, “once placed in category II, no new code-share agreements can be allowed”, Duquette said. Climbing back to category I could take months or years, she said.
An FAA team may visit India soon. Earlier this month the agency’s representatives met Nazeem Zaidi, director general of DGCA, seeking time for the review.
Jet Airways and United, the third largest airline in the US, had in May forged a frequent flyer tie-up and “filed the code-share agreement with the (US) department of transportation” which was expected to take effect around 1 November “pending approval”, according to a United statement released then.
Such a code-share would have given Jet Airways passengers access to United’s five hubs—Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington—as well as more than 20 other cities across the US, while United passengers would have been able to connect to 13 cities in India, including Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi.
On 10 November, Jet Airways announced “frequent flyer partnership with United effective 15 November but there was no announcement on the code-sharing agreement.
A Jet Airways spokeswoman did not respond to an email questionnaire on the delay sent on Thursday.
DGCA’s Zaidi said last week he did not expect India to be downgraded to category II and an action plan has been formalized to meet international norms, adding that India has sought four-six months’ time from FAA to meet rules related to staffing, at least in part.
Its plans include hiring for the 110 vacant positions, besides adding 80 technical positions a year in the next five years to comply with international benchmarks, he said.