IN A setback to the operation of flight services under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) in Maharashtra, Air Deccan flights to Kolhapur, Nashik and Jalgaon have been suspended after the Ministry of Civil Aviation terminated its contract with the airline. Air Deccan was inconsistent in operating flight services under the RCS, said officials.
The move has majorly affected almost 60 per cent of the RCS services in the state, as the airline connected the underserved airports (which do not have more than a flight a day), including Kolhapur and Jalgaon.
The airline, which resumed operations after a gap of almost 10 years, had won the right to operate RCS flights in the first round of bidding held in March 2017. It was awarded 34 routes across the country, with eight based out of Maharashtra.
While Air Deccan started services in Nashik under RCS from December 23, 2017 with the Nashik-Pune inaugural flight, the Nashik-Mumbai flight began operating from December 26, 2017.
The airline is now left with around 30 routes in the Northeast, Kolkata and Gujarat. The ministry has given it an ultimatum of one month to operate regular flight services to these routes.
“This was in the offing after the airline failed to perform. Despite being served a show-cause notice by the ministry in April, they frequently faced operational and maintenance issues. Its flight services to Kolhapur, Nashik and Jalgaon remained inconsistent. The rebidding for the routes will happen later this month and many airlines are showing interest,” said Valsa Nair, state Principal Secretary (Civil Aviation).
The Airport Authority of India (AAI) had issued a notice to the airline in March to maintain the continuity of the flights on routes assigned to it. Earlier this week, the AAI had sent a letter mentioning the termination clause to the airline. Sources said the airline had failed to operate up to 75 per cent of flights in the last three months.
Officials in Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation (MADC), which manages RCS flights in the state, said the airline cancelled its flights on a regular basis. While flights to Nashik and Jalgaon witnessed 60 per cent occupancy, there was low response to the flights to Kolhapur. Under RCS, the government was required to pay up to Rs 25 lakh for handling fire and security services for the airport.
Sources in the government said that as it could fulfil expectations, it may not get any route in the next bidding process.
In June, the state government had lodged a complaint with the civil ministry about airline’s poor services. In a statement on June 28, the airline had said, “Air Deccan is forced to operate its Mumbai-based network and aircraft out of Nashik and this causes unavailability of adequate maintenance facilities on the flight crew. There is no hangar available in Nashik for carrying out inspections, resulting in flying aircraft to Delhi for scheduled and non-scheduled maintenance. This has operational and commercial impact.”
MADC Vice-Chairman and Managing Director, Suresh Kakani, said: “It is not a blow to RCS operations in Maharashtra. Yes, flight services out of these airports would be affected but uncertainty is always bad. Instead of operating services irregularly, it is better to take timely action.”
Sources said that Air India’s subsidiary Alliance Air would start additional flight services out of Kolhapur. Out of Nashik, the RCS flight to Delhi by Jet Airways remains popular.
An Air Deccan official, who did not wish to be named, said: “We have appealed against the notice of the ministry and requested support to remove bottlenecks in Mumbai airport, namely allocation of parking and necessary landing and take off slots and also to help resolve some issues we have had at Nashik airport. This would enable resumption of flights, as the present impediments are rendering the operations economically unviable and preventing in the completion of the flight schedules… We are also working on commencing our operations soon.”