New Delhi: After getting foreign flights by Indian carriers up and running, next on Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh’s agenda is the creation of an Essential Services Fund and recalibration of the route dispersal guidelines for domestic connectivity. Singh had already done away with Air India’s first right of refusal on overseas destinations and begun granting permissions to private carriers for more overseas flights so that the share of Indian airlines in the global air traffic pie increases.
Now, he has trained his guns on enhancing connectivity to remote and inaccessible areas within India. At present, all scheduled domestic airlines are required to mount flights to category II (loss-making routes) and category III (all remaining routes outside of loss-making and primary routes) under the Route Dispersal Guidelines (besides flying to the profitable category I routes).
But stakeholders now want recategorisation of loss-making and smaller routes apart from some sort of incentive to connect remote areas in the country since such operations increase their financial burden.
Singh said in Bangalore on Tuesday that he will look into these two demands and also modify guidelines for the acquisition of aircraft so that Indian carriers are pushed to acquire the smaller aircraft needed for providing connectivity to smaller cities.
Suggestions have been made earlier to also allow non-scheduled domestic airlines to share codes with scheduled operators on such routes besides asking state governments to pre-book seats on such flights to help the airlines become viable financially on such routes.
But if Singh does manage to create a mechanism for directly subsidising airlines for mounting flights on such routes, it could also revive the moribund regional airlines concept, which has been lying in cold storage.
In the case of regional airlines, strict norms on fleet size and other stringent conditions have meant these never really took off. Last year, the ministry granted an initial NoC (no-objection certificate) to five regional operators and appeared amenable to ease these norms so that regional connectivity gets a boost. Operators who were granted NoC include: Freedom Aviation and Air Pegasus for the Southern Region; Captain Gopinath’s Deccan Charters for the western region; Indus Airways, Karina Airlines and Religare Aviation for the Northern Region.Of these, only the Religare airline has begun operations in Punjab earlier this week.
A comprehensive policy to promote regional airlines was devised in 2007 but it has not attracted smaller players. A regional airline, by its very definition, connects small cities in a region to the major metro of that same region; it does not operate outside the region and does not connect to more than one metro city. This ban on connecting more than one metro city has proved to be a stumbling block for regional operations in the past.
Perhaps now that Singh has taken a kinder view on route dispersal guidelines, he may take another look at regional airline norms.