ALMOST A month after suspending flight operations on the routes connected under the regional connectivity scheme (RCS), low-cost airline Air Deccan is set to resume its operations in the state from Sunday. The move comes after the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation warned the airline to start operations on the routes at the earliest. The airline serves nine routes, which connect underserved airports (which do not see more than one flight operating in a day) of Jalgaon, Nashik and Kolhapur from Mumbai and Pune. Operations on these routes were suspended for almost a month since June, since the airline claimed it was facing a financial crisis.
“We are starting operations on all the nine routes from Sunday. Schedule of flights for the following days would be updated later,” an Air Deccan spokesperson said. Last Thursday, the ministry had given an ultimatum to the airline to start operations at the earliest, failing which, action would be taken against it. “If the airline had not resumed operations, we would have cancelled its bid to serve on these routes,” G K Chaukiyal, AAI Executive Director (RCS), said.
The airline, which resumed air operations after a gap of almost five years in 2017, had won the rights to operate RCS flights in the first round of bidding in March the same year. It was awarded 128 routes across the country, with nine routes based out of Maharashtra. During its re-launch, it offered Re-1 flight tickets to a “lucky few” customers.
“It was late in starting operations on RCS routes in the state. Back then it had cited financial problems and we had to follow up with the airline to be quick about starting operations. It later cancelled many flights going to Kolhapur and Nashik, citing that it was preparing a summer schedule and thus had stopped services. In June, it was the third time that it cancelled flights,” a senior official said.
In a statement issued on June 28, the airline had said: “We would like to inform all our valued customers that the current disruption in our operations is temporary and is due to operational reasons. Air Deccan is forced to operate its Mumbai based network and aircraft out of Nashik and this causes unavailability of adequate maintenance facilities an 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. Mumbai airport has allocated required night parking for adequate time slots for all the regional towns under RCS networks won by Air Deccan. This has operational and commercial impact.”
In June, the state government had lodged a complaint with the ministry alleging that the airline’s services were poor. Sources said the ministry has warned the airline on multiple occasions to improve services.
“While debarring the airline from operating on the routes is easy, but re-bidding will take at least a year. Even then we are not sure if airlines would respond to the bid. The Union government has not paid the airline any subsidy, which it is entitled to under the RCS scheme, due to its erratic services,” Chaukiyal said.
While the state had claimed to have started 10 airports under the RCS scheme by mid-2017, only four airports are operational as of now. While Trujet operates daily flights between Mumbai and Nanded, Air Deccan flies to Jalgaon, Nashik and Kolhapur. The presence of a chimney of a sugar factory in the flight path of Solapur airport has stalled its operations.