The civil aviation ministry has defended the sale of slots at London's Heathrow Airport by Jet Airways to Etihad, its partner, saying that the slots allotted to airlines at Heathrow and allotment of international traffic rights to the Indian carrier by the government are different things.
Questions have been raised over the way Jet Airways traded away the slots to Etihad as part of its stake sale to the Gulf carrier.
Jet Airways got the slots after the government of India allocated flying rights under the bilateral air services agreement to the private carrier in preference to Air India, which has been consistently trying to operate more flights to London's Heathrow Airport but is unable to do so due to unavailability of the slots.
Therefore, these slots should have been transferred to the national carrier.
The aviation ministry, however, says these allegations are absolutely baseless and false.
The entitlements/allotments of traffic rights to Indian carriers and availability of slots at foreign airports (Heathrow) are two different matters. The rights to fly on international routes under bilateral air service agreement are given by the Government of India to the designated Indian carriers as per their demand and availability of traffic rights, it said.
The slots are permissions to use a runway or airport infrastructure that means a right of the airline to land and depart from a particular airport, which is given by the airport to the airlines as per the procedure.
The fact, however, remains that Jet Airways got the slots only after the government allocated the right to fly to Jet Airways under the bilateral air service agreement.
The system of slot trading is not available at various airports in India. However, in case of Heathrow Airport, once the slot has been allocated to the airline, the airline after 2 years gets the rights and the airline is entitled to trade the slot to another airline by way of sale/lease/baby sitting etc, the aviation ministry pointed out in a release.
The ministry also said that data regarding slot trading, during the last 12 years, received from Heathrow Airport showed that during 12 years, slot trading has increased from 42 slots in 2000 to 526 slots during 2012.
Jet Airways has transferred to Ethihad 3 pairs of slots at Heathrow Airport, London that has been confirmed by the Airport Coordination Limited, the slot coordinator for Heathrow Airport, it said, adding, ''No permission from Government of India/ministry of civil aviation was required. However, Jet Airways has obtained permission from Reserve Bank of India under FEMA because foreign exchange was involved in the said trading.''
At present, Air India has 4 pairs of slots at Heathrow Airport, of which it was utilising only 2 pairs of slots till winter 2012 and the remaining 2 pairs were under lease to Delta Airways for consideration.
The lease of one pair of slot got expired in winter 2012 and since then Air India has started utilising the slots, although one pair still remains leased out to Delta Airways.