Decision on private airlines flying abroad to be taken in early September?

The group of ministers (GoM) on the national civil aviation policy headed by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to discuss the norms required for domestic airline companies to fly abroad during its next meeting in the first week of September.

The GoM is considering a demand to do away with the mandatory norm that requires Indian airline companies to operate in the domestic market for at least five years before they fly abroad. The civil aviation ministry itself is of the view that each airline should be evaluated on its own merits, instead of setting a blanket eligibility criteria.

"We are willing to do away with existing norm and allow airlines to fly on international routes on a case-to-case basis. In no part of the world are airlines allowed to operate internationally on the basis of their five or three-years experience in the domestic market," civil aviation minister Praful Patel said.

The domestic airline industry is divided rather predictably on this issue, on the basis of age. While older private airlines like Jet Airways are in favour of continuing with the existing norms, newer entrants like Kingfisher, SpiceJet and Air Deccan want them to be relaxed.

"We want to take Indian carriers' inbound and outbound market share in the total international traffic to 50 per cent, which can only be achieved by encouraging our airlines to fly abroad," Patel said. He said allowing airlines to operate to as many as destinations as they want to will bring competition, resulting in cheaper fares and better on-board facilities. A liberal approach on the issue would provide carriers access to new markets, he said.

If the other ministers agree, the new move may pave ways for scheduled carriers such as Kingfisher and Air Deccan to operate internationally. Only Air India, Indian and Jet Airways currently meet the minimum eligibility criteria to operate international flights.