The civil aviation ministry has initiated action against MDLR Airlines Pvt. Ltd, the latest entrant into the Indian skies, for providing services of a commercial passenger carrier though it has been licensed to carry out charter operations only.
The ministry’s action, initiated after Mint called officials for comment on MDLR’s advertisements in the media and online sale of tickets on scheduled routes, is also intended as a direct warning to other airlines which might have planned to obtain charter licences but operate regular passenger services on them.
The ministry has been deliberately going slow in issuing licences for scheduled operators because India’s airports are already crowded and upgradation of infrastructure on the ground has not kept pace with the aviation boom. In Mumbai and Delhi airports, the number of flights has crossed the 600-a-day mark in the past one year, forcing the government to ban any new slots.
“We are immediately issuing an advisory that they should take off their schedules and stop issuing e-ticketing facility, else their NOC (no objection certificate) will be cancelled,” said Maushumi Chakravarty, civil aviation ministry spokeswoman .
MDLR’s president (commercial and strategy) Kaustav M. Dhar said he hadn’t heard from the ministry but the airline will follow the requirements laid down.
Within half an hour of the call from Mint, changes were indeed made on the airline’s website. A section titled “Flight Schedule” was changed to “Time Table” and important instructions were hastily added: “Please check your flight timing before departure” and “Subject to DGCA approval.” DGCA is the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, that oversees commercial aviation in the country. But, late on Monday, MDLR’s website, www.mdlrairlines.in, was still allowing customers to search for and buy tickets online, like any other domestic airline. Civil aviation norms for charter or ‘non-scheduled’ airlines do not allow for prior announcement of schedule and issue of tickets to passengers the way scheduled carriers, such as Kingfisher Airlines Ltd or state-owned carrier Indian Airlines Ltd, which runs the Indian branded service, can do.
Gurgaon-headed MDLR, owned by realtor Murli Dhar Lakh Ram Developers and Promoters Pvt. Ltd, is one among 14 airlines awaiting government clearance for a scheduled operator licence. There are already 14 scheduled carriers in the country, including a cargo airline. They are, however, dwarfed in number by nearly four times as many non-scheduled operators that fly Indian skies.
Last month, MDLR started operations between New Delhi and Chandigarh with a leased BAE short-haul plane that can carry about 70 passengers at a time. On Monday, MDLR added Ranchi on its route map and planned to touch Kolkata next, before moving to cities such as Surat, Bhavnagar, Mumbai and, eventually, Goa.
“It’s a clear mockery of DGCA. What is the need to have winter and summer schedules when any airline can start flying anywhere they want?” complained an airline chief who didn’t want to be named, criticizing the regulator.
The age of MDLR’s sole plane may be blurring the law, too. DGCA does not issue a licence to planes older than 15 years to fly as a non-scheduled aircraft in India, but MDLR’s plane was assembled in 1992. Dhar said the aircraft was given permission as it matched DGCA requirements and so there are no safety issues. “When it landed in India it was less than 15 years old (a few months back). It will complete that time period by the year-end and we will look into it at that time,” Dhar said. “Our second aircraft will be 1996-manufactured.”
Ageing fleet has been a cause of technical snags leading to planes being grounded, two in the last week alone, for state-owned airlines Air India and Indian. None of the scheduled airlines that have launched operations in the past four years have bought or leased planes as old.
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel said last week the government was looking into the financials of players that want to enter into the industry. “The ministry has taken a conscious view that we will examine their financial plans and all other requirements. Only then will permissions be awarded,” he had said.
IndusAir Pvt. Ltd, which flew between Chandigarh, Delhi and Mumbai, shut operations last month after the cancellation of leased planes.