New Delhi: Foreign airlines are likely to be allowed to fly Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft, into India with the aviation ministry setting up a group to study and decide time slots for the aircraft at local airports.
Nine airlines, including Etihad Airways PJSC, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, operate the wide-body, double-deck jets, which can seat as many as 525 passengers.
“They are all asking for it,” said civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, referring to a slew of foreign airlines wanting to fly the jumbo jet into India’s modernized airports such as Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. Singh said he sees no reason why the A380 should not be allowed to fly in India.
With India allowing foreign direct investments in airline and Etihad buying a 24% stake in Jet Airways (India) Ltd, the government is likely to favour greater access to newer aircraft, said analysts.
So far, the Airbus A380 has been barred from flying commercially in India because it may stretch the existing infrastructure at Indian airports and undermine local airlines that do not have the aircraft in their fleet.
Still, the Airbus A380 has made debut flights in India, been present at local air shows and even made an emergency landing at Hyderabad on its way from Australia.
“The only thing left is how to allow it so that it is not inconvenient to other passengers. Right now, 500 passengers disembark in one go so there are concerns on security, immigration and also on ground handling of the A380,” Singh said, adding that a committee will do a time study at airports to ascertain how the aircraft can be allowed without stretching the infrastructure. “We have to see which time slots it can be allowed in,” Singh said, without specifying when the study will be completed.
Once the study is cleared, the ministry will have to amend bilateral agreements with various countries that want to fly such aircraft into India.
Since the Airbus A380 is a new aircraft, introduced only in the last decade, most bilateral agreements with other countries still specify the aircraft type as Boeing 747 (the largest jet flying then) or equivalent.
India this year conducted fresh bilateral negotiations with Singapore, Oman and Abu Dhabi but refrained from adding the word Airbus A380 in those agreements.
Airbus A380 currently plies on business routes such as London-Heathrow; Paris-Charles de Gaulle; Hong Kong; Frankfurt; Dubai; Singapore and Tokyo and other cities.
A potential clearance for A380 could also clash with Air India Ltd’s international plans with its new Boeing Dreamliner 787s.
The airline’s chairman Rohit Nandan said in April Air India would fly to new cities, including Rome, Milan, Birmingham, Melbourne and Sydney, in the next five months using the 787s, a first in over a decade.
“When a fourfold increase in capacity has been signed off (to Abu Dhabi) stating that passengers will benefit, they might as well give the benefit of the latest aircraft to the passengers,” said Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based aviation safety consultant. “However, is our infrastructure ready in case of a diversion of an A380 to another airport? That will be the biggest hurdle.”
India should open A380 to one and all, said Shakti Lumba, formerly vice-president with Air India and IndiGo.
“I have never understood why any aircraft is kept out. The last one was the Concorde. Restrictions killed an excellent airplane,” he said.
Lumba said such restrictions are protectionist. “Someone was being protected who does not need protection any more. Government should open up and provide a level field to stimulate growth.”