A new controversy could be brewing in the Indian aviation industry. This follows the Indian Government allowing foreign airlines to operate the Boeing 747-800 aircraft to India but denying them permission to operate the Airbus A380 aircraft in Indian skies.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation lists both the new aircraft as ‘Code F’ aircraft, which means that they are much bigger aircraft both by length and wing span compared with any other aircraft flying internationally.

Cashing in on the Government’s decision, German airline Lufthansa has announced that it will start operating the Boeing 747-800 to Delhi in the first week of August.

However, there are also a host of international airlines which are keen to get the A380 into Indian skies. These include Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Emirates, except that they do not know when the Government will allow that.

When both the aircraft are Code F, why should only one be allowed?

The number logic

The Government has its reasons for following this approach. A senior official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation told Business Line that the A380 was not being allowed in Indian skies because the aircraft is capable of carrying over 500 people in one flight.

However, the argument of the large number of passengers that can fly in a single A380 flight does not make sense. The Airbus Web site shows that in a typical three-class seating, the A380 can accommodate 525 people. In comparison, the Boeing Web site shows that in a similar configuration the Boeing 747-800 will seat 467 — that is a difference of 58 seats between the two aircraft. Moreover, even the Boeing 747-400, which is flying in Indian skies, can carry over 400 passengers in a single flight. The argument about numbers also sounds hollow because of another reason — at the moment, Singapore Airlines is carrying only between 409 and 471 passengers on its A380 flights elsewhere in the world, while Emirates is carrying between 489 and 517 passengers in a flight.

‘Protectionist govt’

Of course, industry watchers and international airlines have their own explanations for the Government’s attitude. According to them, it is fear of competition which is forcing Indian carriers to lobby with the Government to keep the A380 out.

This makes sense, because even Emirates is looking at flying the A380 into India even though this will mean that it will have to cut down on the number of daily flights that it operates — one of the reasons why the Dubai-based airline has caught the fancy of Indian passengers. From Delhi alone the airline operates four times a day to Dubai and then offers connections to pretty much any part of the world.

Many others feel that allowing the Boeing 747-800 to fly in Indian skies could be because the Boeing 747 family of aircraft have been flying in India for several years, while the A380 is a new aircraft which entered service only five years ago.

Small airports

The other issue that is highlighted by official sources is the number of airports in India which can handle the A380. At the moment, there are only a handful of airports, including Delhi and Hyderabad, which can handle a Code F aircraft.

This again does not make much sense because if an airport can handle the other Code F aircraft, the Boeing 747-800, then it can also handle the A380. Also, the A380 has landed in Indian airports on more than one occasion without any problems.

Moreover, the Government’s long-term vision was getting these aircraft into Indian skies and that is why a lot of investment has been made at various airports in aerobridges, catering trucks and personnel training so that they can handle these aircraft. Allowing the A380 will mean better use of these assets which have been created at airports such as Delhi.

Clearly, the Government is not looking at things the way most of the aviation industry is. And till it does, it is flyers in India who will not get to experience the comforts of the new aircraft.

ashwini.phadnis

@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 30, 2012)
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