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Explained: Why has the US accused Air India of unfair, discriminatory practices?

The United States Department of Transportation has said that it will now scrutinise all repatriation flights to India, and allow them only on a case-by-case basis.

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 25, 2020 10:02:06 am
air india repatriation flight, vande bharat mission, US bars Air india flights, coronavirus news An Air India repatriation flight lands in New Delhi. (Twitter/@IndianEmbTokyo)

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has levelled allegations against India of being “unfair” and engaging in “discriminatory practices” with regard to repatriation flights. The DOT has restricted flights operated by Air India, saying it will need specific authorisation from the DOT to conduct any such flights.

“…Effective 30 days from the service date of this Order, it shall not perform any Third- and/or Fourth-Freedom charter flights unless the Department has granted it specific authority in the form of a statement of authorisation to conduct such charters,” the Department said in an order dated June 22.

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What are the allegations being made?

The US DOT has said the Government of India has “impaired the operating rights of US carriers” and has engaged in “discriminatory and restrictive practices with respect to US carrier services to and from India”. It added the Indian government has prevented US carriers from conducting India-US passenger charter operations involving direct sales to individual passengers or through other distribution systems.

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“For its part, the United States has not placed any limitations on US-India charter operations, and Air India has been and remains free to conduct the full complement of passenger charter services…,” its order of June 22 read. It also said Air India’s repatriation flights have gone beyond the purpose “at least on the India to the US segments” and involved sales.

air india repatriation flight, vande bharat mission, US bars Air india flights, coronavirus news Healthcare workers wait to speak to a passengers recently arrived on an Air India Ltd. repatriation flight from Singapore at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi on Friday, May 8, 2020. (Bloomberg: T. Narayan)

How does this affect fliers booked to travel to the US?

Air India flights for repatriating Indian citizens from the US are slotted till July first week. The US order has said that effective 30 days from the service date of the order, Air India won’t be allowed to exercise the “third and fourth freedoms of flight”. Pending an agreement, the decision could affect those planning to fly back pm flights in the fourth phase of Vande Bharat.

Has the US conveyed this to India?

According to the order, on May 19, an official from the US DOT had advised Air India of the concerns that some, if not all, of “Air India’s so-called evacuation charters have gone beyond true evacuations and involved sales to any member of the general public able to enter the United States”. On May 26, Delta Air Lines, via a letter, requested permission from the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation to run repatriation charter services. To date, Delta has not received approval, the US DOT said. Further, the US registered its objections through engagement by the US Embassy in New Delhi on May 28. However, the Indian government “has thus far failed to remedy the situation”.


How many flights has Air India operated to the US under Vande Bharat Mission?

The Vande Bharat Mission was announced in April to bring Indian citizens back from several countries. On June 3, Air India released a schedule for additional repatriation flights that includes 49 US-India round-trip charter flights between June 10-July 1. On June 13, it announced 10 additional repatriation flights between June 20-July 3. Prior to the lockdown, Air India operated 34 round-trip flights per week to the US.

The US has noted that with 59 flights advertised for the period June 10-July 3, Air India would be performing charter operation at 53% of the operations it previously performed. “As such, it appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the GoI-imposed prohibition of all scheduled services. This situation… creates a competitive disadvantage for US carriers vis-à-vis Indian carriers,” it said.

air india repatriation flight, vande bharat mission, US bars Air india flights, coronavirus news Air India will now need specific authorisation from the DOT to conduct such flights. (Twitter/India in UK)

What action is being taken by the US?


The DOT has “determined that this situation calls for close scrutiny, on a case-by-case basis, of Air India passenger charter operations until this issue has been satisfactorily resolved”. It has ordered that prior approval be sought for all Air India repatriation flights.

How has India responded?

In a statement on Tuesday, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said: “We have received requests from concerned authorities in several countries including the US, France, Germany among others requesting that their air carriers be allowed to participate in the transportation of passengers along the line being conducted by Air India under Vande Bharat Mission. These requests are being examined.”

On June 15, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation had said: “… DGCA granted permission to around 870 chartered flights, transporting around 2 lakh passengers, both inbound & outbound… Major airlines including Qatar Airways-81, KLM Dutch-68, Kuwait Air-41, British Airways-39, FlyDubai-38, Air France-32, Jazeera-30, Air Arabia-20, Gulf Air-19, Sri Lankan-19, Biman Bangladesh-15, Korean Air-14, Delta-13, Saudia-13 & Air Nippon-12 took part in the operations. Additionally, Airlines like Air New Zealand-12, Thai Air Asia-11, United Airlines-11, Iraqi Airways-11, Oman Air-10, Ural Airlines-9, Lufthansa-8, Somon Air-8, Condour-8, Emirates-5, Etihad-5, Aeroflot-4 & Virgin Atlantic-4 also took part in the chartered operations.”

What are the third and fourth freedoms of air?

These pertain to a set of rights accorded to a country’s airlines to enter or land in another country’s airspace or airports. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization of the UN, there are nine freedoms of the air. These rights, generally, operate on a bilaterally reciprocal basis.


However, in certain cases some handicaps are imposed on capacity allowed from one country to another. The third and fourth freedoms essentially allow basic international service between two countries. The third freedom accords the right to an airline to carry passengers or cargo from its home state to another, while the fourth allows it to bring passengers or cargo from another country to its home state.


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First published on: 23-06-2020 at 11:33:50 am
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