Private airlines fail to release foreign routes from Air India's grip

New Delhi: Domestic private airlines have sought permission to operate overseas routes which are not being exploited by national carrier, Air India, for fear foreign carriers will lift passenger traffic that ought to be carried by Indian airlines.

Private carriers are hamstrung by a situation where Air India neither operates enough international flights and nor allows private carriers to operate what are extremely lucrative routes.

According to government sources, private carriers are now asking for slots in the Gulf and south-east Asian routes, as destinations like Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Sharjah and those in Russia are high revenue generators.

Private carriers point out that of the total bilateral traffic rights available with India only 30-35% are utilised, primarily because of Air India's refusal to let other Indian carriers ply these routes even though it has no intention of operating them itself.

As the national carrier, Air India has the first right of refusal on any route under an Air Service Agreement (ASA), which India signs with other countries. Over the years, AI has accumulated such bilateral flying rights but has failed to exploit them.

Over the last one year, according to industry sources, private carriers like SpiceJet and IndiGo have applied to the government to operate various lucrative international routes like Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, Russia and the CIS countries but have failed to receive any response from the government.

While SpiceJet has an application pending for rights to fly to Tashkent, Tehran and some ASEAN countries, IndiGo has sought an increase in frequencies to Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok without receiving any response for a long time.

Industry observers say international carriers are benefiting from this stalemate as they are picking up market share.