Govt moves to improve air connectivity in small towns, to notify new policy in Jan
In a move designed to sharply improve air connectivity in small towns across the country, the government has decided to allow single-engine aircraft with up to nine seats to perform commercial operations along side larger airlines like IndiGo and Air India. This comes even as the ministry of civil aviation starts a consultation process to combine the two categories of non-scheduled operators (NSOPs) and scheduled airlines.
The development marks a major shift from the current rules where single-engine aircraft are only allowed for recreational or air charter services, and commercial operations are restricted to larger twin-engine aircraft. This strategy will be a part of the new civil aviation policy for which a draft was released in November, and a final version will be notified in January next year.
“Initially we thought of increasing helicopter services through Pawan Hans to improve air connectivity in smaller towns. But that was proving unviable. Instead allowing the huge fleet owned by air charter services to perform commercial operations will have a better impact, especially because most airports in smaller towns have shorter runways where larger jets owned by the scheduled airlines cannot land,” an aviation ministry official told FE.
Last month, union minister for civil aviation P Ashok Gajapathi Raju also wrote to several stakeholders inviting comments on a proposal to combine the 120 NSOPs registered with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation with the 11 scheduled operator permits. This move will help air charter services to fly their aircraft on regular routes.
“It is felt that that removal of distinction between the scheduled operators and NSOPs may help in increasing air connectivity to various regional centres, as large number of aircraft, which are lying dormant with NSOPS, may be brought to productive utilisation. The Minister desires that the feasability of removing the distinction may be examined at an early date,” a letter sent by the Minister’s office dated November 28, 2014 said.
Incidentally, a draft policy for regional/remote air connectivity released in August this year had proposed that by end-2016 airlines be mandated to match their capacity on 30 trunk routes with that deployed on regional/remote routes. As reported by FE in its edition dated August 30, 2014, this policy proposal would also have required larger carriers to tie up with smaller air charter firms to meet the requirements. However, this proposal was put on the back burner after heavy opposition from airlines who said that it would sharply impact their profitability.