Putting to rest the tussle between regional airline operators and GVK-operated Mumbai International Airport (MIAL) over availability of slots for more flights under the government’s regional connectivity scheme (RCS), the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) said that no more slots will be awarded to operators offering connectivity between Mumbai and tier II and tier III cities till the airport in Navi Mumbai becomes operational. “It is not fair to allow a 19-seater aircraft (regional operators use mostly smaller aircraft) and deny slots to a 180-seater aircraft (single-aisle planes like A320 or Boeing 737) at an airport like Mumbai,” said Rajiv Nayan Choubey, civil aviation secretary, responding to a question by FE on the issue. “For finding any additional capacity, these operators will have to wait till the Navi Mumbai airport comes up,” Choubey said. Under the government’s subsidised regional flying scheme, operators have to bid for routes they wish to launch flights from to connect tier II and tier III cities to metro airports. Two such bidding rounds have already been done with 12 RCS slots being used by airlines at MIAL. Ever since the government launched the RCS two years ago, providing slots for smaller aircraft has caused a lot of heartburn between regional airlines and airport operators, especially at Mumbai. Mumbai airport is capacity constrained, located in the heart of the city with no land to expand.
Part of its adjoining land is taken over by slum encroachments, making any further expansion impossible. Movements of over 900 aircraft per day are managed by MIAL using a single runway, making it the busiest single-runway airport in the world. In 2017, the airport handled 35.2 million passengers. In his interview to FE in February, GR Gopinath, founder of Air Deccan, which is also flying under RCS, had slammed Mumbai airport for not giving additional slots to airlines to connect smaller cities in Maharashtra. He had pitched for a 25% capacity allocation by the government at metro airports for regional carriers. “These flights (UDAN and charters) are reducing Mumbai airport’s capacity to handle more flights. These flights carry 19-20 passengers and occupy longer time on runway,” MIAL’s CEO Rajeev Jain recently said in an interaction. According to industry sources, not only regional operators but also scheduled national operators like IndiGo and SpiceJet have been asked by MIAL to adjust regional slots within their existing slots. This means that they will not be allocated any additional RCS slots. Regional operators at Delhi International Airport (DIAL), however, have been given a better deal.
Choubey said the ministry has already decided to shift regional operations from DIAL to the Western Command Air Force Station at Hindon. “Permission is already obtained from the air force to use Hindon for RCS flights,” he said. Hindon is one of the largest air force bases in the country. So far, under its plan to add more airport capacity for providing depth of connectivity in India, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has upgraded 40 airports and is in the process of reviving another 50. The AAI has a capex plan of `18,000 crore over the next four years for airport expansion.