• New civil aviation policy faces delay over auction proposal

    The new civil aviation policy that seeks to ease the rules for airlines to fly overseas and radically increase regional air connectivity will have to wait, as the Prime Minister’s Office has ordered to go slow on it.

    The civil aviation ministry had discussed the new policy with other ministries such as finance, home, external affairs and commerce and even prepared a note to be presented before the Cabinet to seek its approval. But lack of consensus between the two civil aviation ministers and among senior officials of the ministry over a key proposal — auction of rights for foreign airlines to fly into India — has probably led the PMO to throw the spanner in its works, people in the know said. “Our Cabinet note is ready and we were about to send it when the PMO asked us not to send it till further orders,” said a senior aviation ministry official, who did not want to be named.

    A section of the aviation ministry, including Cabinet minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, wants auction of bilateral rights to bring in transparency in the allocation, the official said. “The other section that includes junior minister Mahesh Sharma and officials are, however, opposed to any kind of auctioning of bilateral rights, as no other country in the world does it,” the official added.

    Currently, bilateral rights are negotiated between two countries and the increase in allocation is decided on the basis of demands made by the airlines from both negotiating countries. Government officials in the know of the matter said the external affairs ministry, which has a major say on bilateral traffic rights as the policy involves foreign governments, has approved the aviation ministry’s proposal to conduct auction.

    When asked, aviation secretary RN Choubey said the ministry had not sent the Cabinet note on the policy yet as “internal discussion are continuing”.

    But, he denied any involvement of the PMO. “No instructions have been given by (the) PMO,” Choubey said in an SMS response.

    The information officer for the PMO, Sharat Chander, didn’t respond to SMSes sent to him. When called, Chander said he will get back but didn’t respond until press time on Wednesday.

    While the differences are over whether or not to auction the bilateral rights, the delay in clearance of the new aviation policy would also affect the government’s plan to abolish the so-called 5/20 foreign flying rule. According to this rule, an Indian carrier will have to fly in the domestic sector for at least five years and have a fleet of 20 aircraft to fly international.

    The aviation industry is divided on the issue of its abolition, with airlines like Jet Airways, IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir — they got permits to fly overseas after operating five years in the domestic sector — opposing the proposal and newer carriers Vistara and AirAsia India favouring its abolition.

    According to the new rule that proposes to replace 5/20, airlines must allocate 20 aircraft or 20% of their total fleet of aircraft, whichever is higher, to the domestic sector if they wish to fly overseas, ET had reported first on March 9, 2016.

    The draft of the aviation policy released late last year also sought to make millions more fly by limiting airfares to.`2,500 per hour on short routes and making hundreds of mostly unused airports and airstrips in small cities and towns operational. Chris Hubbard Womens Jersey

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