The ministry of civil aviation is planning to do away with a regulation that requires Indian carriers to have a fleet of at least 20 aircraft to start international operations. The move will help the Wadia-promoted GoAir and AirAsia India (which is set to start operations by year-end) to fly passengers out of India.
"The clause that requires domestic airlines to have five years of business experience cannot be altered. But we are considering doing away with the requirement of having a fleet of 20 aircraft to start international operations. There is no rationale for putting restrictions on fleet size at 20 aircraft," a senior ministry official said.
The change in policy, when effected, would immediately stand to benefit Mumbai-based GoAir, which started operations in 2005. Go Air currently has a fleet of 16 aircraft.
"We started operations in 2005. We are meeting the requirement in terms of business experience. We have applied for a waiver of the 20-aircraft regulation for flying international. A foreign airline can fly to and from India without meeting any such conditions. Why should not a domestic airline be allowed to do the same?" asked Giorgio de Roni, chief executive officer, GoAir.
"Specially, when it increases tourism, generates opportunities in terms of both trade and employment. We have written to the ministry over a year back and hope to receive a positive response. Such a regulation amounts to discrimination against Indian airlines," De Roni told Business Standard.
AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes, too, had been vocal in his criticism of the said regulation. In a media briefing in New Delhi earlier in July this year, Fernandes, whose Malaysia-based low-cost carrier has tied up with the Tata group to launch AirAsia India, had said the rule restricting Indian airlines' foreign operations made no sense, and that India was the only country where it existed. "I as a one-plane operation as AirAsia Malaysia can fly into India but an airline with (less than) 20 planes cannot fly out. That's a disadvantage to the (Indian) airline."
In the meantime, GoAir is in the process of readying a business plan to start international operations. The airline at present operates a fleet of 16 aircraft, which is set to increase to 19 by February 2014. De Roni added: "We hope to start international operations soon. We have started work on a business plan. The destinations we fly to from India will depend on traffic rights which are available. We already fly our aircraft 13.5 hours a day and if we have to improve productivity, we need to fly in the night as well. The idea is to improve utilisation by flying on international routes. The Gulf is a possibility."
AirAsia has also evinced interest in developing India as a hub for international travel.
"India is strategically located. And we can operate flights from the southern part of the country within a four hour circle to destinations in Africa and on the Gulf route such as Doha, Nairobi, Maldives, Karachi, Bangladesh and some cities in China. It is bizarre that the government has a regulation in place which allows airlines with five years of operations and a fleet of 20 aircraft to fly international. It does not make sense. Probably Naresh (Goyal) or someone put it down", Fernandes had said.