New Delhi: No-frills carrier SpiceJet Limited will be the only private airline to fly to the US after an air service agreement between India and US designated the Indian carrier to operate scheduled services between the two countries.
"This is to inform you that in terms of the Air Services Agreement (ASA) between the Government of India and the Government of the United States of America, SpiceJet has been designated as Indian scheduled carrier to operate on agreed services between India and the USA," SpiceJet said in a stock exchange notification on Thursday.
SpiceJet has never flown on a long-haul route before, and operated to Middle East and South East Asian countries on its narrow-body fleet before a curb on international flights were placed in March. The airline will now need to lease wide-body planes to fly to such long-haul destinations as narrow-body planes like Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 in its fleet are incapable of undertaking such flights.
“...This designation would help us plan for our international expansion in a much better and calibrated manner," Ajay Singh, chairman and managing director of SpiceJet said in a statement.
International flights to and from India had been suspended since March as various countries went into lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, although the government-owned Air India had operated repatriation flights to bring stranded Indians home.
Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri had last week said the Indian government is in talks with at least three countries, including the US, France and Germany, to resume international flights under 'bilateral air bubbles', adding that Indian private carriers will also be given an opportunity to fly on such long-haul routes provided they operate wide-body aircraft for such flights.
At present, only Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, and state-owned Air India have wide-body planes in their fleet.
According to reports, SpiceJet has taken an Airbus A330 aircraft from Oman Air on wet lease. But, it isn't clear if the airline will operate this aircraft on long-haul routes.
A SpiceJet spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
It's unlikely that SpiceJet will operate A330 on a non-stop flight between India and the US.
"It will be difficult to fly Airbus 330 non-stop to the US. SpiceJet would likely lease more wide-body aircraft, like Boeing 787, Boeing 777, Airbus A 350, to operate non-stop on such long-haul routes," said an industry official, requesting anonymity.
Earlier in June, the US' Department of Transportation had accused the Indian government of engaging in discriminatory and restrictive practices by leaving out US carriers from the government-backed Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) to repatriate stranded Indians from foreign countries, including the US.
Since then, the issue has been somewhat resolved with India allowing US carriers to operate between the two nations. Similarly, Indian private carriers like SpiceJet, apart from Air India, have been allowed to operate in the sector.