Draft new civil aviation policy: Lacking vision

AK Sachdev | Updated on January 24, 2018

The draft new civil aviation policy is all hot air

Any pilot will tell you that aviation is all about speedy decisions; delays are unforgivable. Civil aviation in India is, however, under no pressure of time in its policy review process. It took the new civil aviation minister Gajapati Raju six months to release a draft new civil aviation policy in November 2014 for circulation and comments. The policy still remains a draft.

Ignoring the delay in bringing the draft to maturity, its value as a ‘new’ policy document has been questioned by critics. The two-page text omits some crucial demands and grievances of the Indian civil aviation stakeholders, glosses over critical issues by making sweeping statements and does not encourage much enthusiasm in civil aviation circles.

For example, it states (para 5) that “steps will be taken in association with the Ministry of Finance and State governments to rationalise the rate of taxes so that our costs are competitive”. The nature of the steps envisaged remains undisclosed, the definition of a rationalised rate of taxes is left to the reader’s imagination, and the word ‘competitive’ is mystifying (inter-state competition, or competition with international oil vendors?).

Insipid document

There is no indication whether the government has any intention of meeting the long-standing demand of airline operators to place aviation fuel under the declared goods category, an expedient that will solve the problem but has not been executable by successive governments.

Had the new draft stated an intent to place aviation fuel under declared goods category, irrespective of the fate of the draft, the government would have earned the respect of the civil aviation community. As things stand, the community finds the draft insipid, devoid of any potential to contribute to the growth of civil aviation. Then there is the issue of including some matters in the draft which are under review separately (5/20 policy, regional connectivity, airport development, etc), and excluding some crucial ones such as the replacement of Director General Civil Aviation by a financially independent and functionally autonomous civil aviation authority, as also import duty on aircraft.

System error

One basic question that arises concerns the raison d’etre of the new draft policy. What was the basic purpose of floating the draft? Was it meant to address the dynamic changes in the civil aviation industry in recent years? Was it envisaged as a fountainhead from which would flow future objective, impersonal and unbiased decisions? Or was it just intended to display a certain action orientation of the ministry, perhaps a display of action being taken?

These interrogative remarks are on account of the fact that the draft is neither a comprehensive one, nor one that indicates a determined action plan to rid the civil aviation industry of all ailments that currently inhibit its growth.

How then, can the draft be rendered more meaningful and practicable?

The answer lies in carefully selecting the constituents of the drafting panel. Why does it have to be drafted by minions of the very ministry whose frailties are intended to be remedied? There is an enormous bank of aviation professionals — retired and serving — whose contribution, coming as it were, from the grassroots level, would produce iterations worthy of translating into policy.

The final document needs to contain crystal clear and unambiguous directions on how civil aviation needs to move ahead so that future decisions use this document as a touchstone for validity and applicability.

The writer is a former IAF officer and ex-COO of a private airline

Published on June 11, 2015

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