The waning importance of the ‘national carrier’

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 12, 2018

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What is a national carrier and why is this status important for Air India?

Today the concept of a national carrier in Air India’s context is not as important as it was in the past . Being the national carrier was important in the days when Air India was the only one airline operating in the domestic and international skies. Even worldwide this was the case some 40-50 years ago.

Since then things have changed in many countries, including in India. India allowed private airlines to start flying scheduled services in the domestic skies in 1997. In 2004, the domestic airlines were allowed limited international flights — to countries in the South Asian region.

The following year the rule was again amended and domestic Indian carriers were allowed to fly anywhere in the world except for the Gulf region where Air India and Indian Airlines were given a monopoly till 2010.

Even then the issue of a national carrier was important because Air India had the first right of refusal on flying abroad. This meant that other airlines were allowed to operate flights from India to international destinations only if Air India was not in a position to do so.

But all this changed and so did the importance that Air India enjoyed as India’s national carrier. In fact, as far back as 2004, the Naresh Chandra Committee report on Civil Aviation had said that the discussion on privatisation of Air India and Indian Airlines often centred on the need for having a government-owned national carrier.

The report stated that in a dynamic and competitive industry like air transport, it was quite likely that the incumbent national flag will cede the role to other airlines that emerge as stronger operators.

“The most prominent example is the US, where American Airlines and United Airlines have donned this mantle from erstwhile airline Pan Am and TWA,” the report stated.

Published on May 31, 2017

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