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New aviation policy may hit NE connectivity

By Kalyan Barooah

NEW DELHI, March 2 - The Centre�s ambitious initiative to boost air connectivity in the North-East is likely to take a hit, as change in the civil aviation policy might force private air operators to cut down operations in the region.

The bone of contention is the Centre�s move to change the 5/20 rule, the four operators, which among themselves control 90 per cent of the passenger traffic, are opposing. The so-called 5/20 rule in the Route Dispersal Guideline (RDG) entails that a new carrier has to operate in the domestic sectors for five years and have a minimum fleet size of 20 aircraft before it is allowed to operate international flights.

But the latest draft National Civil Aviation Policy circulated by the Centre proposes to do away with the 5/20 norm, upsetting the old players in the field. The tweaking of the rule is likely to benefit the new entrants Air Asia and Vistara, a Tata-promoted subsidiary of the Singapore Airline.

Briefing a selected group of newsmen from the North-East, top executives of the four operators said that loss-making sectors, like the North-East, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep, which are categorised as II and II A routes in the RDG, are likely to be hit.

Those who briefed the media today included chairman and managing director of SpiceJet, Ajay Singh, Chief Executive Officer, Go Air, Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, president of Indigo, Aditya Ghosh and vice president (corporate affairs), Jet Airways, Ragini Chopra.

Calling for a level playing field, the SpiceJet CMD said that they may have to withdraw and ease out aircraft from the category II sectors elsewhere, if the 5/20 norm is done away with.

If the airlines are not given level playing field, it would be very difficult to implement the RDGs, added Ghosh of Indigo. The Indigo president further pointed out that while they have deployed 20 aircraft to service the North-East, the new airlines have deployed one aircraft each. �Further, according to the RDG we cannot decrease our aircraft,� he rued.

Chopra said that among themselves they operate 750-800 flights weekly to the North-East.

And the direct impact of the draft civil aviation policy in the North-East would lead to reduction of connectivity and higher fare, said the president of Indigo that operates about 320 weekly flights to the North-East.

The draft national civil aviation policy, meanwhile, is likely to be approved by the Cabinet later this month, said sources.

The CEO of GoAir said that prior to the introduction of the draft policy there was no discussion with the industry though they have sent their note to the Civil Aviation Ministry.

Minister of State for Civil Aviation Dr Mahesh Sharma was quoted in the media as having confirmed that the Centre was looking at partial abolition of the 5/20 rule. �We had, in the past, contemplated on many alternatives. At present we are looking at partial abolition. For example, in place of five/20 we can make it 3/10 or 3/12. We have also looked at options like 0/10 and 0/20. These are some of the options that we have discussed. We are very close to selecting one of these,� he was quoted as having said.

Meanwhile, while the old players are feeling the heat of the proposed changed in policy, Indian conglomerate Tata Sons, part-owner of airline Vistara, said on Wednesday that a rule restricting new carriers from flying overseas should be scrapped because it gives an unfair advantage to foreign airlines that now dominate international air travel.

The rule is discriminatory to Indian airlines as foreign airlines, which do not meet these criteria, are allowed to operate in Indian skies, but Indian airlines cannot enjoy reciprocal rights,� Tata Sons said in a statement.

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