Our Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri recently made statements on the currently prevailing scenario in India specially with reference to International flight operations. We are aware that because of the covid-19 pandemic, all regular International flights are likely to be suspended perhaps untill October 2021. India has a Air bubble agreement with a few countries and passengers are traveling according to this agreement.
The foreign carriers will be allowed to operate through this agreement but it should not be at the expense of Indian carriers.
The biggest example of exploiting the bilateral agreement between the two countries is that out of estimated 25 million International passengers travelling out of India, 10 million of them are carried by various Airlines from the Gulf countries like Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airlines, and a few others. It is an open secret that out of 10 Million, Only about 1 million is bound to these countries and rest of them are destined via their bases to Europe, USA, UK and Canada.
Same is also true of European carriers like Lufthansa, KLM and Air France as they carry passengers to USA,Canada and other parts of Europe.Singapore airlines also does this and most of its passengers are bound for the west coast of USA. This is because of the exploitation of third and forth freedom traffic as they carry the passengers to other countries via their base stations.
The Minister of Civil Aviation made it clear that under the Air bubble agreement, the foreign carriers should carry origin and destination passengers only.This led to a few problems with Lufthansa recently and they had to cancel a number of flights to India.Reciprocally,Air India also canceled flights to Frankfurt.
As mentioned earlier, International travel will be affected till October of 2021and in this crisis,we should see a silver lining for carriers registered in India.The Minister should be visionary and bold and ensure that he sticks to the stand about 3/4th freedom with them.
This will give an opportunity to Indian carriers to realign themselves in these difficult times for the aviation business worldwide.
In this connection it is strongly recommended the following for Ministry of Civil Aviation in India :
1. Freeze all bilateral agreements with various countries
2. Conduct Audits of the existing bilaterals which would give information about the gross exploitation of 3/4th freedom by these airlines
3. Indian registered carriers should have equal opportunity to grow.Government should ensure that there is a strong national carrier. Air India should be provided adequate support as it is very weak financially and should be privatized at the earliest
4. India has a very poor percentage of transit traffic.The government should ensure that more transit hubs are created and cities like Mumbai,Kolkata and Chennai are created as major hubs to give advantage to Indian carriers.
If these measures are not initiated, then unfortunately we will continue to be where we are presently and foreign carriers will continue to exploit the situation. Therefore it is expected that Minister of Civil aviation of India should continue with his visionary work and be bold as most of the International carriers worldwide are in a deep financial problems and assist the registered carriers in India to come out of this and flourish.
Views expressed here are those of Bharat Chaturvedi, Executive Director (Retd.), Air India