New Delhi: India will ask Deutsche Lufthansa AG to stand by its commitment to push for Air India Ltd’s inclusion in the Star Alliance grouping now that the state-run carrier’s problems “are over”, aviation minister Ajit Singh said on Tuesday.
Membership of Star Alliance will allow the carrier to pool its flights into a wider network consisting of the world’s top carriers and thereby broaden its access and appeal to passengers.
Air India had been invited to join the alliance in 2007 but its application was put on hold in 2011 for not being compliant with all the requirements, according to Star Alliance. India rejected the contention at the time as being unfair. It subsequently emerged that Star Alliance wanted to admit Air India’s non-state rival Jet Airways (India) Ltd into the grouping.
German carrier Lufthansa, a founding member of the airline grouping, had initially promised to mentor Air India’s entry into Star Alliance, in return for which it had been rewarded with flight approvals and other benefits, according to the Singh.
“We are going to talk to Lufthansa to adhere to the plan we had to join the alliance. The government gave a lot of facilities to the (German) airline that was mentoring us to join Star Alliance,” Singh told an economic editors conference in New Delhi. “In the meanwhile, Air India also had some problems. But now they are over.”
Jet Airways applied to join Star Alliance in 2012, a move that’s awaiting the aviation ministry’s approval. The ministry has recently approved the carrier’s strategic alliance with Lufthansa on sharing flights both locally and overseas, Mint reported on 29 August.
Joining Star Alliance was a key part of the turnaround plan of beleaguered Air India that was approved by the cabinet. The 2007 understanding between Air India and Star Alliance envisaged that the Indian flag carrier would be admitted first, after which a second carrier could join.
Singh on Tuesday said Jet Airways and Air India “can join together”.
Emails to spokespersons of Star Alliance and Lufthansa remained unanswered.
As regards aviation infrastructure, work on new airports at Navi Mumbai, Goa and Kerala’s Kannur is expected to begin by the end of this financial year, Singh said.
The aviation ministry has granted in-principle approval to build 15 new airports across the country and a total of Rs.24,132 crore is proposed to be made available for their development in the five years to March 2017, Singh said.
He also said rationalization of jet fuel prices was “on the anvil” through the declaration of this as a notified product and bringing it under ambit of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board.
The minister also said air passenger growth has slowed and remains a worry.
“In the past three months, the traffic numbers have fallen. Following the global economic downturn, there were worries about a downturn in the Indian economy. There were estimations about a fall in GDP (gross domestic product) growth and there were issues relating to high costs. And airlines and the hospitality industry are the first to suffer from this,” he said. “We hope that in the long run the traffic will increase. It is bound to increase.”
Singh said India’s aircraft acquisition policy was also being modified to “nudge” Indian carriers to buy smaller planes to operate to smaller cities.
PTI contributed to this story.