International flying rights to Indian carriers: Privatised Air India loses preferential status

NEW DELHI: Privatised Air India will no longer get precedence in getting international flying rights under India’s bilaterals with other countries and all Indian carriers will now be on the same footing.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has revised the guidelines in this regard by dropping the clause that was meant for the erstwhile state-owned Maharaja: “Due consideration shall be given to the operational plans submitted by Air India before allocation of the traffic rights to the other eligible applicants.”
The regulator, on April 19, 2022, issued the revised rules for granting permission for scheduled international flights to Indian carriers who can qualify for doing so after meeting the 0/20 requirement — no cap on years of operation but having a minimum of 20 aircraft in fleet.
The Tatas had taken over AI and AI Express three months back. Alliance Air, which as an all turboprop fleet, is going to be privatised soon.
Given the poor financial health of a majority of Indian carriers, under-utilisation of flying rights granted to them has been a common phenomenon in past few years.
When airlines who wanted to add flights would approach the ministry for nod to do so, first consent would be taken from AI if it planned to operate on that particular route/s.
“This used to delay the entire process and added to the problem of airlines under-utilising flying rights at the cost of those who could have done so,” said people in the know.
The demand for international flying rights is soon going to increase as under the Tata’s, Air India and AI Express are expected to add international routes.
IndiGo had major international expansion plans from mid-2024.
Billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’s upcoming Akasa hopes to have a fleet of 20 aircraft by next year and will then seek international flying rights. So the move comes just ahead of the anticipated rise in demand.
In this situation, the only requirement is that airlines should operate the flying rights they seek and not sit on them without deploying flights.
“The traffic rights allocated to an airline for a particular schedule period shall be fully utilised by it during the same schedule period. Failure to do so shall result in the unutilised rights reverting to aviation ministry at the end of the schedule period for which they were allocated and the ministry will be free to allocate them to other airlines. The defaulter airline may also apply afresh, if it so wishes, but its priority for allocation of rights will be reckoned as the lowest among all the applicants,” the guidelines say.
In case airlines apply for routes which go beyond services permitted by bilaterals or air service agreements (ASA) between India and the destination country, preference will be given to flights connecting small towns directly with foreign destinations. “In case the available traffic rights are not sufficient to cover the requirements reflected in the applications, the allocation shall be first made to satisfy the requirement contained in any application for operations from a non-metro airport …”