• Panel against auctioning of flying rights to neighbouring countries

    A panel that includes India’s top federal official did not favour a proposal that had sought auctioning of flying rights to airlines flying to the country from its immediate neighbourhood.

    The Committee of Secretaries (CoS), which met in the second week of February, did not favour the Civil Aviation Ministry’s proposal on the ground that bilateral flying rights are treaties signed between two countries on the basis of equality and are not candidates to go under the hammer. The Prime Minister’s Office and the federal cabinet had asked the specially constituted CoS to examine the proposal made in June.

    “Barring the aviation secretary, all other members, including the cabinet secretary, were of the view that bilateral entitlements are signed between two countries on the basis of equality and that auctioning them may not be the right idea,” said a government official, who was aware of this issue. The aviation secretary, however, differed, citing European precedence to back the rights auction proposal.

    The announcement was part of the civil aviation policy the Cabinet had cleared in June. It required designated carriers of countries within 5,000 km flying radius and seeking flying rights beyond those already agreed to bid for bilateral privileges. Both Indian and overseas carriers said the policy militates against universally-applied principles of bilateral entitlements. Aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju and his then junior Mahesh Sharma had divergent views on the issue too.

    To further examine the proposal, the Prime Minister’s Office and the cabinet ordered the constitution of the CoS: It is headed by the cabinet secretary. Members of the CoS are secretaries of the Department of Industrial Promotion and Policy and of the aviation, and foreign ministries and chief executive of planning think-tank, the NITI Aayog.

    “The CoS has asked us to examine the issue again and we are discussing it internally and with stakeholders, including airlines,” said an aviation ministry official, who did not want to be identified.

    Analysts welcomed the initial rejection by the CoS.

    “The decision to auction bilateral (entitlements) is legally and strategically unwise and I am happy that this decision is likely to be changed,” said Kapil Kaul, CEO for Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation in India. “India needs a clear bilateral strategy, which is well balanced, equitable and not driven in one direction. Instead of auctions, we need a new framework for bilateral allocation,which is in national economic interests and one which can be defended later against any audits.” Jonathan Schoop Jersey

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