The civil aviation ministry is developing an entirely new framework for bilateral air services agreements (ASAs) that will focus more on the needs of domestic carriers. The ministry has been criticised for granting bilaterals in a manner that causes domestic players like Air India to lose business to foreign competition. Emirates, for instance overtook Air India in 2013 with a 13% market share.
A senior civil aviation ministry official confirmed to FE it was conducting an internal exercise to review the position on bilaterals. “The idea is to understand in which areas we are underutilised, whether there is a shortage of aircraft or other bottlenecks,” the official said. He explained the new guidelines would pencil in not just the industry’s current ability to use the seats but future potential. “The primary consideration should be: What’s in it for us? There have to be larger
economic benefits for the country,” he said, adding that a review of how existing
bilaterals had helped had been initiated.
The timing of the review is significant given the entry of new players such as Tata- Singapore Airlines (Tata-SIA) also since the government is also simultaneously revisiting the 5/20 rule; the rule bars carriers from flying overseas until they complete five years of operations in India and have 20 aircraft.
The new ASA guidelines are expected to benefit not just airlines like Air India and Jet Airways, which operate long-distance international flights, but also likely new entrants such as Tata-SIA, which has said it plans to fly international routes as soon as the 5/20 rule is removed.
The decision to form a new framework comes after the India-Abu Dhabi ASA, signed in April last year, received intense criticism from a parliamentary panel led by CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy for giving benefits to a single player, Etihad, ostensibly for the airline’s R2,000-crore investment in Jet Airways to go through.
The UPA government had increased India’s bilateral traffic rights with Abu Dhabi by 36,670 seats in phases till October 2015, a move that makes Abu Dhabi’s seat entitlement the same as Dubai’s current allocation. At the time, Dubai had a 12% share of India’s international traffic, while Abu Dhabi had a 2% share. Countries such as Qatar, Egypt, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia that are currently in line for bilaterals would have to wait till the revised guidelines are in place.
“The worry is that the business of