India in talks with US on allowing inbound, outbound flights of American carriers

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on June 23, 2020

India is negotiating with the US to allow its airlines to operate flights to and from India.

Flights between the two countries are decided following a complicated process where the request for more flights is first sent to the Indian mission in the country, which forwards the request to the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi, which then forwards it to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for a final decision.

At the moment, the bone of contention is that the Ministry of Civil Aviation is yet to give clearance to US carriers for flights to India while the US Department of Transport has allowed Air India to operate flights to and from the US.

It is not difficult to understand the US carriers’ angst. The Indian outbound market has a large section of people referred to as Visiting Friends and Relatives, or VFR. The US, Canada and UK are among the countries to which there is a lot of VFR traffic movement. The India-US market itself is estimated at  $7 billion annually.

The issue became contentious after the US Department of Transport issued an order on June 22 alleging unfair treatment to its carriers as only Air India is currently operating between India and the US.  Before the  pandemic this market was served not only by Indian and American carriers but also by carriers from West Asia and Europe.

On June 22, the US Department of Transport issued an order stating: “AI will be required, effective 30 days after the service date of this order, to obtain prior approval from the Department in the form of a statement of authorisation before operating any third- and/or fourth-freedom charter flights to or from the United States.”

The freedom of air allows airlines of a specific country to fly to another country. The first freedom allows Air India to take off from India while the second freedom allows it to land in the US. The third and fourth freedoms allow Air India to take off from the US and land in India.

The order points out that the situation where Indian airlines are permitted to operate flights while US carriers are not, creates a “competitive disadvantage for US carriers vis-à-vis Indian carriers” which goes against the “fair and equal opportunity to compete” provisions of the agreement between India and the US to operate flights between the two countries.

Delta’s request

The order of the Transport Department states that on May 26 Delta Airlines, through a letter, requested the Ministry of Civil Aviation to perform repatriation charter services similar to those provided by Air India. “To date, Delta has not received approval to perform the requested repatriation charters,” the order says.

The order adds that on June 3 Air India released a schedule for additional repatriation flights that includes 49 US-India round-trip charter flights that are scheduled to operate between June 10 and July 1. Again, on June 13, Air India released a schedule for 10 additional repatriation flights between June 20-July 3. “Prior to the March 25 suspension of scheduled passenger services, Air India operated 34 round-trip flights per week to the United States. With 59 flights advertised for the period from June 10 to July 3, Air India would be performing charter operation at a rate of 53 per cent of the operations it previously performed as scheduled services,” the order said.

Published on June 23, 2020

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