Today's Paper

Govt. clears civil aviation policy, makes flying cheaper

In a big push to its reform agenda, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government approved the country’s first National Civil Aviation Policy for increasing air connectivity, allowing new domestic airlines to fly abroad quickly and opening up the skies for European and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) countries.

New airlines, such as Vistara and AirAsia, will no longer have to wait for five years before starting operations on international routes.

Start-up airlines can now fly abroad after operating at least 20 planes or 20 per cent of their total flying capacity, whichever is higher, on domestic routes.

According to a 2004 norm, which is also known as the ‘5/20 rule’, a domestic airline is allowed to go international only after flying for five years to domestic destinations and operating at least 20 aircraft.

“Connecting the unconnected and serving the un-served is the motto of the civil aviation policy. The questionable legacy of the ‘5/20 rule’ has been thrown into the dustbin today,” Information Technology and Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said here after a Cabinet meeting.

Reciprocal basis

India will have an open-sky policy for countries beyond the 5,000-km radius from Delhi on a reciprocal basis. This means that airlines from European or Saarc countries will have unlimited access, in terms of number of flights and seats, to Indian airports, leading to increased flight frequencies with these countries.

While India has a full open-sky arrangement with the U.S., it has a near open-sky agreement with the U.K. with a restriction on the frequency of flights to and from Mumbai and Delhi.

As a part of its regional connectivity scheme, passengers will be charged Rs. 2,500 for an hour’s flight on regional routes by the airlines. The government will provide support to fund airlines’ losses on such unserved routes “by a small levy per departure” on all domestic routes, except in remote ones and in north-eastern States.

It has grand plans to revive 50 airports in the next two years through the regional connectivity scheme.

However, it is yet to ascertain how it will mop up funds for providing the viability gap funding.