Vande Bharat mission: U.S. may bar Air India from operating charter flights

In a setback to the government’s Vande Bharat mission, the United States is likely to bar Air India from operating charter flights for allegedly violating a bilateral agreement by denying one of its airlines permission to conduct repatriation charters from India.

The U.S. government’s Department of Transport (DoT) has said that the manner in which Air India is conducting operations under the guise of charter flights creates a “competitive disadvantage” for U.S. airlines. It points out that Air India has sold tickets directly to the general public and planned to operate 59 flights over a period of one month — a number that is nearly 53% of its scheduled commercial operations.

The DoT on June 22 served an order to Air India requiring it to “to obtain prior approval from the Department in the form of a statement of authorisation before operating any Third and/or Fourth Freedom charter flights to or from the United States. We are taking this action because the Government of India (GoI) has impaired the operating rights of U.S. carriers and has engaged in discriminatory and restrictive practices with respect to U.S. carrier services to and from India.” The order will come into effect after 30 days.

The order says that India’s move to ban schedule operations from March 23 as well as disallow U.S. carriers to operate charters violates the Air Service Agreement of 2005 signed between the two countries.

“On May 19, 2020, an official from the Department advised Air India of the Department’s concerns that some, if not all, of Air India’s so-called evacuation charters have gone beyond true evacuations (at least on the India to the United States segments) and involved sales to any member of the general public able to enter the United States. On May 26, 2020, Delta Air Lines, Inc. (“Delta”), via letter, requested permission from the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to perform repatriation charter services similar to those provided by Air India. To date, Delta has not received approval to perform the requested repatriation charters.”

It has also accused India of ticketing the general public while its flights were operating under the pretext of being chartered flights.

“As such, it appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the GoI-imposed prohibition of all scheduled services. This situation, in which Indian airlines are permitted to perform services pursuant to their rights under the Agreement while U.S. carriers are not, creates a competitive disadvantage for U.S. carriers vis-à-vis Indian carriers, in contravention of the fair and equal opportunity to compete provision of Article 11 of the Agreement.”

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 8:38:25 PM |

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