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Thursday, 12 September, 2019, 17 : 00 PM [IST]

Govt turns down airlines plea for more bilateral rights

The Narendra Modi government is set to continue in its second term the policy of not increasing foreign flying rights with countries in West Asia and Southeast Asia, as their allocation has been controversial in the past and was flagged by Indian audit and investigation agencies. In a recent meeting at the civil aviation ministry, a request from airlines to increase bilateral foreign flying rights with certain countries was not entertained and the airlines were asked to look at other available routes, according to people aware of the matter. “Suggestions were made to start flights to long-haul destinations like London and Canada and also to Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries,” said one person, who did not wish to be identified. Airlines are allowed to launch unlimited flights to Asean countries from a few destinations in the country. The government’s response came after airlines sought an increase in foreign flying rights to short-haul international destinations, as both existing and new airlines are planning to expand to overseas destinations. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Singapore are also seeking an increase in foreign flying rights after the existing rights have been exhausted from both sides. 

The number of flights between two countries is guided by a bilateral foreign flying rights regime which specifies the number of flights airlines can operate to the other country. India has signed such bilateral agreements with 109 countries. Aviation analysts said that restricting foreign flying rights on routes where both sides have exhausted the quota is anti-consumerist as it would keep fares firm. The demand from Indian carriers was met to an extent after the grounding of Jet Airways, whose foreign flying rights for destinations such as Dubai, Singapore, Qatar, China and Hong Kong were allocated to other domestic carriers. 
Airlines are, however, demanding a further increase to boost their expansion plans, as Vistara and AirAsia India also plan to expand internationally. Indian carriers had earlier opposed any increase in foreign flying rights on the grounds that foreign carriers were taking away all the long-haul international traffic through their hubs in Dubai or Singapore. Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways carry a large percentage of onward traffic from India to Europe, the Americas and Africa through their home bases. 

The Modi-led NDA government, since the time it took charge in 2014, has been cautious in increasing foreign flying rights with countries within 5,000 km radius of India — such as the UAE, Qatar, Singapore and Malaysia — unless Indian carriers utilise at least 80 % of India’s quota. 
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