A second, crucial meeting of a group of ministers or GoM tasked with finalizing India’s new civil aviation policy, which seeks some far-reaching changes in regulations governing the sector, is getting delayed and increasingly runs the risk of falling into a limbo if the United Progressive Alliance unravels and heads for early elections.
Opening up of international skies to relatively young private airlines, sharing of military airspace and restructuring of the Airports Authority of India are some of the key elements of the new aviation policy. Hanging in balance is access to a lucrative international aviation market for firms such as Kingfisher Airlines Ltd and its affiliate Deccan Aviation Pvt. Ltd, whose airline flies under the Air Deccan brand. Currently, only Jet Airways (India) Ltd and its unit Sahara Airlines Ltd, which uses the JetLite brand, can fly abroad, besides the state-owned National Aviation Co. of India Ltd’s (Nacil) Air India airline.
Initially slated to meet in the first week of September, the GoM has not come together owing to various engagements of its dozen members. A civil aviation ministry official said the ministers may meet on 1 November, the only date available with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the GoM. Mukherjee is also the government’s point person to resolve the Left parties’ opposition to the India-US nuclear deal.
But, four key ministers of the GoM have expressed their unavailability on 1 November. These include railways minister Lalu Prasad, shipping and road transport minister R. Baalu, tourism minister Ambika Soni and urban development minister S. Jaipal Reddy. An earlier meeting on 20 September was postponed because finance minister P. Chidambaram was not available.
“It is such a large GoM that it’s difficult to get all of them on one single day,” said a senior civil aviation official familiar with the planning for the meeting, who did not wish to be quoted.
The first meeting of GoM, when most of the ministers were present, in August, remained inconclusive. Railways minister Lalu Prasad and law minister H. R. Bharadwaj had expressed reservations on opening up of international routes for carriers that have not completed five years of domestic operations.
The policy clearance is important for two-year-old Kingfisher Airlines that plans to start India-US flights with its first long-haul aircraft to be delivered in March. For Jet Airways and Nacil, the new norms will result in more competition on international sectors.