With Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) writing to the the civil aviation ministry regarding non-availability of slots in overseas locations despite having flying rights, the government plans to take up the matter with other countries to ensure that domestic carriers get adequate slots.
Indian carriers are able to utilise a mere half of the seats operated by foreign carriers to and from India, as per latest data available with the aviation ministry. While foreign carriers offer 4,32,456 seats a week on flights to and from India, the home-grown carriers manage to fly only 2,42,365 seats. Utilisation of traffic rights by Indian carriers is low due to a number of reasons such as lack of availability of slots, timing of available slots not suiting the airlines, commercially unviable routes and companies not having adequate aircraft for long haul flights.
Flights cannot operate unless both rights and slots are given. While rights are given by the sovereign, slots are non-sovereign subject in the sense that this is a matter between the airline and the airport operator, civil aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey said, when asked about local airlines facing problems of not getting adequate slots despite having the rights.
“Non sovereign matters are not discussed in the air service agreements but nevertheless the government will take up the matter of non-availability of slots to ensure Indian carriers actually get to fly to other nations. We will discuss this when ASAs come up for renewal,” Choubey said. India has signed Air Service Agreements (ASA) with 109 countries covering aspects relating to the number of flights, seats, landing points and code-share.
For instance, Air India and SpiceJet have asked the civil aviation ministry that the Dubai airport should have more slot options in lieu of the liberal access that India has given to their carriers. “The main problem is that we have the rights, but we don’t get the slots. When we talk to, say Dubai airport, they are not willing to give as adequate slots or they give us slot for odd timings, which are not commercially viable,” says chairman and managing director a private airline.
Domestic carriers Jet Airways, Air India, IndiGo and SpiceJet operate to Dubai using bilateral seat entitlements allocated by the Indian government. As per Memorandum of Understanding signed between India and UAE (Dubai) on February 26, 2014, the designated carriers of both countries are entitled to utilise a total of 65200 seats per week. Dubai has asked India for an increase of 50,000 seats in total capacity entitlements.
“Dubai’s argument is that since their airlines’ have utilised all the entitlements available, they should be given more rights. They say it’s not in their control if Indian carriers are utilising the reciprocal flying rights or not,” another aviation ministry official said, asking not to be named. The government provides seat entitlements on reciprocal basis, and additional rights are usually given when Indian carriers have exhausted their quota.
The draft National Civil Aviation Policy proposed to bid out additional seats above existing bilateral rights to foreign carriers, without requiring reciprocity. This means that government proposed to auction additional seats even though domestic airlines have not fully utilised their quota. While the government maintained that this would boost connectivity, Indian carriers strongly opposed this proposal arguing that bilateral rights are sovereign rights of the country, and are not supposed to generate transaction values with foreign carrier. The aviation policy is expected to be unveiled in two weeks after it is cleared by the Union cabinet.