A proposal by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to notify a new rule re-designating all non-scheduled operator permit (NSOP) holders with less than three aircraft as ‘private’ airlines could force a majority of India’s air charter industry to stop all “commercial” flights.
This is because aircraft owned under the private category, like those by corporates houses such as the Adani Group or Reliance Industries for transport of company executives or personal use, are not allowed to carry fare-paying passengers.
At present, 120 air charter operators, including players such as Invision Air, Zest Aviation and Freedom Services, are registered as NSOPs with the DGCA, but only 39 have three or more aircraft. The choice between the remaining 81 is to either stop operations or expand their fleet to at least three over the next 12 months.
The move by the DGCA is being seen as a fallout of the US Federal Aviation Authority’s (FAA) downgrade, with on of the most crucial deficiencies found in the Indian regulator’s functioning being the shortage of trained staff to carry out engineering and flight checks.
The regulator says the proposal to make amendments in the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) — section III, series C, part III — meets the guidelines as issued by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and would lessen the burden on manpower to carry out safety checks on commercial non-scheduled aircraft.
“The requirement to have minimum three aircraft per operator is as per ICAO guidelines. A committee was set up to examine the issue of non scheduled operator’s permit, which recommended that operators with less than three aircraft not be permitted commercial operations by the DGCA. We have a shortage of human resources and the FAA downgrade is related to that. It is the same amount of manpower that goes in to checking a solitary aircraft or an entire fleet of a full scheduled airline,” a DGCA official said.
Director General of Civil Aviation Prabhat Kumar, who has accepted the recommendations of the committee, said the proposal is highly viable, as the regulator is also proposing such business aircraft operators to have scheduled flights in future.
“We have also given them one year’s time to either raise the fleet strength to meet the minimum aeroplane or helicopter requirement or to get themselves converted in to the private category,” Kumar said.
The DGCA had invited comments on the proposal after a public notice was issued on October 13 regarding “revision to the applicability requirement… on minimum requirements for grant of permit to operate non scheduled air transport services.”
The Business Aircraft Operators’ Association (BAOA), however, has called the proposal “retrograde” as that would “severely affect the entire industry”, “retard growth of remote connectivity”, and “would not, in any way, reduce safety oversight responsibility of the DGCA, as it appears to be the purpose of the amendment proposed.”
“The proposed amendment will severely retard the growth of regional and remote connectivity as it is contrary to the ministry of civil aviation’s policy. Majority of NSOPs operate only one aircraft, and are looking forward to deploying them on remote routes. It would be in the best interest of aviation industry to frame regulatory requirement in conformity with the policy of MoCA,” BAOA President Rohit Kapur said.