India is set to offer unlimited seats to designated airlines of foreign countries as part of its proposed ‘open sky’ policy but landing rights will be negotiated to suit its convenience. It will adopt variants of open skies with different countries, depending on what they bring to the table.
Open sky refers to bilateral air service agreements with countries for operating unlimited seats by designated airlines of the two countries.
Clarifying on the proposed policy to liberalise flying on foreign routes, aviation secretary RN Choubey said that the proposed open skies with foreign countries would be negotiated in a calibrated manner giving local carriers preparatory period before they compete with international rivals.
The draft aviation policy released on October 30 had proposed landing points on a reciprocal basis but it has now emerged that access points to airlines of foreign countries would be subject to separate negotiations. Seeking to liberalise the rules governing bilateral traffic rights with foreign countries, the policy proposed to follow open skies in a graded manner.
The government’s stand to not offer local destinations to designated carriers of foreign airlines on reciprocity and instead subjecting it to negotiations found favour among aviation analysts.
“It is logical on part of government to negotiate with countries on points-of-call,” said said Rajan Mehra, former India head of Qatar Airways.
“This is the way local airlines could be protected. It is a practice followed by many countries. In case we give more access to foreign airlines they would eat the market share of local airlines,” he added.
Another aviation expert who did not wish to be named said that a number of destinations cannot be calculated mathematically. Rather it has to be based on logic and common sense.
While the draft policy has proposed to enter into open skies with Saarc and countries beyond 5,000 km from April next year, it intends to put in place similar arrangement with countries within 5,000 km aerial distance beginning 2020.
“The open sky would normally have two components. One would be how many seats, aircraft or flight on a daily or weekly basis. Second is what landing rights countries are going to offer to us. As far as the number of seats are concerned, it would be unlimited. Landing or number of ports-of-call will be a matter of negotiation,” Choubey said.
India currently has ASAs with 109 countries but open skies with a limited number of countries – the US and the UK (except Heathrow). It, however, follows an open sky policy for cargo with all the countries.
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