Noting that Air India was reportedly at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the private players, a Parliamentary Committee has asked the government to make rules to penalise those airlines which were not operating 10 per cent of their capacity to socially important but commercially unviable routes like the Northeast.

The recommendation of the Committee on Public Undertakings (COPU) came in the wake of reports that the State-run Air India was facing a disadvantage as profitable routes in both domestic and international sectors were being allocated to private carriers.

Noting that these reports cannot be ignored, the COPU sought amendments to the Route Dispersal Guidelines to ensure “strict compliance” by all scheduled airlines to mandatorily operate 10 per cent of their flights to such sectors, called Category-II, II-A or III routes.

It suggested that airlines be compensated for operating flights in these far-flung regions in excess of this mandatory requirement.

The COPU report, tabled in Parliament on Friday, also sought creation of a mechanism to make these guidelines “mandatory for all private airlines and for punitive action against the violators.”

It listed out over 80 international and domestic routes from where Air India withdrew flights since 2002-03.

In the process of finalising its report, the COPU raised a large number of questions on the issue of route allocations, including about complaints that “remunerative routes are being surrendered” by the national carrier to private airlines.

It also wanted to know who decided the routes to be operated by the airline — the Ministry or the airline — and the considerations on which the decision to surrender a route was based. To this, Air India replied that it decided the routes it would operate on its own.

The airline officials, while deposing before the COPU, said several loss-making routes were taken off its network, while flights from some more were withdrawn due to shortage of aircraft.

The Committee asked the Civil Aviation Ministry to conduct a “transparent review” of the entire route and slot allocations in domestic and international sectors.

After the review, the Ministry should “effect necessary changes” to ensure that Air India was “neither put to any disadvantage nor appear to be placed in any disadvantageous position”, the COPU said.

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