Submit foreign operation plans by Aug-end: Min to airlines

New Delhi: Indian carriers, most of which have planned to expand foreign operations from this winter, have been asked by Civil Aviation Ministry to submit their international flight plans till 2014 by this month end.

The ministry`s move comes in the wake of aggressive expansion carried out so far by foreign carriers, especially those from the Middle East.

Official sources said the global operation plans of the Indian carriers would be discussed at a meeting early next month.

The data have been sought to assess the capability of Indian carriers to operate international flights, in terms of their fleet, crew and bilateral rights used, they said.

At present, foreign airlines weekly operate 1,356 flights to India as against just over 800 by Indian carriers. Indian carriers permitted to operate international flights are Air India, Jet, IndiGo, SpiceJet and Kingfisher.

But Kingfisher Airlines has stopped its entire international operations, while Air India`s global flights have come down due to the recent 58-day pilots` strike. The national carrier, however,is now in the process of resuming several of its international routes stopped earlier due to the strike.

The sources said the Ministry was not in favour of allowing international airlines to operate more flights into India till domestic carriers catch up with them.

Indian carriers have been complaining that the lack of bilateral air traffic rights was resulting in their foreign counterparts flying more passengers out of and in to India. If such a situation persisted for long, it would be detrimental to the interests of Indian airlines, they feel.

The official sources said though whatever rights have been agreed upon under various international agreements cannot be curtailed or changed, steps can be taken to ensure that Indian carriers do not suffer loss on account of heightened competition from foreign airlines.

While the Indian carriers are struggling to increase their frequencies internationally, several foreign airlines have already requested the Indian aviation authorities to allow more flights.

In this context, a consultation paper of the Civil Aviation Ministry has recommended that the foreign carriers` request for further opening up access has to be limited until a point has reached where the Indian carriers have fully utilised the under-served bilateral agreements and acquired the same access to the airline of the country that was requesting the bilateral.

Some international carriers, due to their existing network, can fly passengers from several Indian cities to their hubs in the Middle East or Southeast Asia and then onwards to the US, Canada, Europe or Australia.

Such a situation has been adversely affecting the interests of the Indian carriers, the sources said.

In countries like Australia, Kenya, Turkey where the respective bilateral air traffic agreements allow domestic airlines to fly up to 8,531, 5,600 and 5,600 seats, Indian carriers are flying none.

On routes like Malaysia and China, the utilisation of bilateral rights is merely 12 and 6 per cent respectively.

Airlines like Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Emirates, which operate the world`s largest aircraft Airbus A-380, have sought permission to introduce these aircraft to India routes so that they can fill up all seats on this large super-jumbo aircraft, the sources said.