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Thursday, 11 March, 2021, 12 : 30 PM [IST]

India mulls renegotiating foreign flying rights

The government is examining a proposal to renegotiate foreign flying rights with several countries, including those in the Middle East, reports Mihir Mishra for ET. The idea is to cut down on so-called sixth-freedom privileges to foreign carriers — carrying passengers from India to various destinations across the globe through airports in their countries, several officials told ET.

A passenger flying to New York from Delhi can either take non-stop flight or via one of the hubs in the Middle East or Europe—this is known as sixth-freedom traffic in aviation parlance. Dubai’s Emirates is among the biggest beneficiaries of such privileges, followed by Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways as well as some European and Southeast Asian carriers.

Meetings on the matter have been held with the External Affairs Ministry on the issue, said the people cited above.

"Liberal bilateral awards have led to a situation where people fly one-stop through the foreign carrier’s home airport to various parts of the world. This has made it difficult for our Indian carriers to launch direct flights to these international destinations. Indian airlines have also opposed any more flying rights to these countries," said a government official, who did not want to be identified.

While the decision on bilateral flying rights will be taken by the Aviation Ministry, the consent of the External Affairs Ministry is crucial for any such move to proceed, he said. India has signed bilateral foreign flying rights agreements with 109 countries but not all of these will be renegotiated.

Aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola and the Aviation Ministry spokesperson didn’t respond to queries.

While the move is set to help Indian carriers expand globally — especially the new owners of Air India and Vistara, which have long-haul international networks and expansion plans — it may lead to a reduction in the number of international flight options for fliers, possibly leading to higher fares. The government aims to privatise Air India.

Another official said bilateral agreements can be reviewed, especially since the pandemic has hurt the aviation industry badly. "There are provisions for terminations and renegotiations and Covid has thrown an opportunity," the second official added.

Indian airlines welcomed any changes that may come about. "These foreign airlines are stronger and it is very difficult for us to compete with them. This move, if it happens, is surely going to give us some advantage," said an airline executive.

The move would open up options for Indian airlines to fly long-haul international routes to Europe and the Americas without any competition from hub carriers.

The government, since its first term, has been of the view that India opened up its market to foreign carriers too much by liberalising foreign flying bilateral rights. (Source: Economic Times)

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