UDAN Faces Legal Hiccups

The government had in June this year announced its civil aviation policy. Its fallout has been – Airlines will have to pay Rs 7,500 for every flight up to 1,000 km, Rs 8,000 for those between 1,000 and 1,500 km and Rs 8,500 above 1,500 km.

As per the Union civil aviation minister Jayant Sinha, the national civil aviation policy, including the Regional Air Connectivity Scheme (RCS), is expected to increase the number of functional airports in the country to 150-200 in the next few years; there is going to be a massive increase in airport capacity in the country with an expected investment of Rs 1,50,000 – 1,70,000 million by the AAI in the up gradation and modernization of its airdromes.

According to data twitted by the Minister, the aviation sector served 8.67 million people in October 2016. In contrast, the sector had provided services to 7.03 million people in October 2015. The total number of air travelers between January and October 2016 increased to 81.37 million, from little over 66.06 million during the same time period in 2015.

Noting that the aviation sector in India is changing very dramatically, Sinha added, “There is going to be a massive increase in airports capacity in the country.”

At present there are 75 functional airports in the country. The RCS is now being envisaged with a view to connect smaller cities with the metros which will result in more number of airports coming up.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has notified a new cess applicable on domestic flights in order to create a corpus for UDAN under RCS. It has been marked to all airlines and posted on the DGCA’s website.

This move has, however, been challenged in court by the airlines despite apparently knowing that their plea may not be entertained. The group Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) comprising IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and GoAir has filed a petition challenging the cess in the Delhi high court. 

The notification reads –
Airlines will pay
– Rs 7,500 for every flight up to 1,000 km,
– Rs 8,000 for flights between 1,000 and 1,500 km and
– Rs 8,500 for flights over 1,500 km.

The airlines are naturally expected to pass on the cost of the new UDAN charge to their passengers, but they are not sure whether they can do so under the law. If passed on, the cess would come to about Rs 50 per passenger on a 180-seater Airbus A320 plane —flown by most of these budget airlines.

“The central government has decided to impose a levy on the following scheduled flights being operated within India at the rates indicated against them to fund regional air connectivity fund created under powers conferred under Rule 88-B of the Aircraft Rules 1937,” DGCA Director General B.S. Bhullar said.

The current rules already mandate that airlines should mark a certain percentage of their total flights for under served areas. Bhullar said those flights would be exempted from the new levy.

Operators of smaller planes such as ATRs, (operated by Air India and Jet Airways) and Bombardier Q400s (operated by SpiceJet) which are below the take-off mass of 40,000 kg, need not pay this levy. These planes mostly fly short-haul routes.

Flights started by operators in future using funds from the UDAN cess will also be exempted from these charges.

The Airports Authority of India has been designated as the nodal agency to monitor the collection of funds from airline operators.

The funds will also be open to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)

The ministry expects an estimated Rs 4,000 million to be collected annually as a result of this scheme. The fare for a one-hour journey of about 500 km on a fixed-wing aircraft or a 30-minute journey on a helicopter has been capped at Rs 2,500, with proportionate pricing for routes of different lengths and duration.

The court, however, has declined to stay the imposition of the levy.

The ministry hopes that, if all goes well, a sum of Rs 4,000 million a year or so can be raised to feed the RCS. However, aviation analysts believe that if the ministry had properly conceptualized the non-aeronautical revenue arising out of over 150-200 new and revamped airports, more than Rs 14,000 million a year could have been raised. That would not have inconvenienced anybody; the air fares would have dropped further; and above all, the whole scheme could have been made self – reliant. There would have been no need of any sort of subsidised relief. 

FIA contends that the cess will be a huge burden on the financials of the airlines. As per FIA, the ministry of civil aviation did not have the authority to introduce the levy in this manner. It said the levy made up for the government’s share of the Regional Connectivity Fund (RCF) towards the public purpose of enhancing regional connectivity.

Thus, the Government’s ambitious much hyped Regional Air Connectivity Scheme is going to run on crutches which might not survive in the long run. This attitude of the government proves that the government knows very well that the scheme does not have any attractive inherent financial feasibility which may excite an entrepreneur. If one takes away the various sops and concessions given to RCS, apart from this levy, then one is left with only losses. Against this backdrop, several practical questions are being raised over the economical operation of the scheme. 

The next hearing is slated for 21 December.

Port Blair Set to Get More Air Connectivity with Bengaluru and Hyderabad

Low-cost air carrier GoAir has added Hyderabad as its 23rd destination on its network; services to begin from October 2016. Hyderabad-Bengaluru-Port Blair are now going to be air-connected.

Earlier, India’s leading low cost air carrier, IndiGo, had introduced three new flights connecting Port Blair with Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi. Port Blair thus became IndiGo’s 41st destination.

As of now, the Mumbai based no-frills airline GoAir flies to 22 domestic airports with a fleet of 21 Airbus A320 including A320neo.

This will provide leisure and business travelers more travel options.

In a press release, GoAir said that it would add Hyderabad in its network with the launch of non-stop flight services between Hyderabad and Chennai, Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar, & Kolkata from October 2016.

Tickets for the new flights are already up for sale, the release said, and can be booked through the company website, NC Airways, GoAir Call Centre, airport ticketing offices, and the GoAir mobile app that is available on both Apple iOS and Google Android.

“This latest addition to GoAir network reflects the airline’s phase of growth with a focus on scaling up operations gradually in the coming weeks while strengthening the value proposition to suit customer’s demand. With new additions of aircraft in coming months, GoAir will operate up to 184 daily flights by the end of December from current 144.” the airline said.

In June 2011, GoAir had placed an order with the European airplane maker, Airbus, for 72 new A320 neo aircraft valued at about Rs 3,24,000 million on list price. Thereafter, GoAir signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Airbus for another 72 A320neo aircraft at Farnborough International Airshow in July 2016.

GoAir had last month said that it planned to add five more planes in the fleet by March 2017 besides commencing international operations.

“Hyderabad is a key market in south and central India and a significant base for business and tourism in the region. Adding Hyderabad with its ideal geographical location, we reinforce our commitments towards connectivity across the country,” GoAir Chief Executive Officer Wolfgang Prock-Schaeur said in the release.

“We are happy to welcome GoAir to Hyderabad Airport. As one of the fastest growing airports in the country, our focus has been on providing more options to our passengers and with the introduction of services by GoAir, we now offer a wider range of choices in terms of destinations and frequencies. We keenly look forward to working together with GoAir towards our goal of establishing Hyderabad Airport as the gateway to south & central India,” GMR Hyderabad International Airport CEO, S G K Kishore said.

IPO Would Happen at the “Right Time”: GoAir

GoAir, owned by the Bombay-based Wadia Group, is the fifth largest airline in the country with a low passenger market share. It started its operations in 2005 and has had a slow growth owing to the tough aviation environment in India. The company says that the slow growth is strategic so as to maintain profitability.

GoAir buys A320 neosIn June 2011, budget carrier GoAir had placed an order with Airbus for 72 new A320 neo aircraft valued at about Rs 3,24,000 million. Besides, it also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Airbus for another 72 A320neo aircraft at Farnborough International Airshow in June 2016. About the MoU with Airbus, CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer said the order is expected to be in place in the next 2-3 months.    “Economic things are stipulated in the MoU and only legal issues are to be worked out,” he added.

GoAir is now eligible to start international flights and is believed to have plans to come out with its initial public offering soon. It plans to raise funds through IPO to start its international operations.

GoAir had filed an application earlier this year for its International traffic rights.

GoAir has now obtained government’s approval to fly to nine countries including Iran, Uzbekistan and Kazakhastan. It expects to start international operations from the next summer schedule — which generally spans from the last Sunday of March and extends to the last Saturday of October. GoAir would be the first Indian private carrier to fly to any CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). The Ministry of Civil Aviation has awarded GoAir the ensuing routes and frequencies:neo

– Mumbai Int’l or Delhi Int’l to Tehran Imam Khomeini (Iran) – 7x weekly;
– Mumbai or Delhi to Guangzhou or Kunming Changshui (China) – 7x weekly;
– Mumbai or Delhi to Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) – 7x weekly;
– Mumbai or Delhi to Malé (Maldives) – 7x weekly;
– Mumbai or Delhi to Baku (Azerbaijan) – 3x weekly;
– Delhi to Tashkent Yuzhny (Uzbekistan)/Almaty (Kazakhstan) – 4x weekly;
– Kochi Int’l or Bangalore Int’l to Doha Hamad Int’l (Qatar) – 7x weekly;
– Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram/Hyderabad Int’l/Kannur to Dammam (Saudi Arabia) – 7x weekly.

Apart from this, GoAir has said it will start seven new flights from 21 August which would connect Delhi to Jaipur, Lucknow, Mumbai, Pune and Guwahati.

Four direct flights connect Delhi, Jaipur and Lucknow. In addition, there will be three connecting flights start from Guwahati, Mumbai and Lucknow and lands at Jaipur, Lucknow and Pune respectively via Delhi.

Almost all these flights are in the afternoon time.

download (6)On the much-awaited IPO, Prock-Schauer has said that plans are on for listing and it would happen at the “right time”.  “We are preparing ourselves (for the IPO). Its a question of timing, it is about the right timing. We are not in a hurry. We will wait for the right timing. We want to be well prepared. There are many things which we need to look at (before going to stock exchange),” he said.

GoAir is aiming for 26 aircraft by end of March 2017 from the current fleet strength of 21. As GoAir prepares to expand its aircraft fleet and fly overseas, its manpower requirement is also building up. Gearing up to implement its ambitious expansion plans, GoAir plans to hire 500 personnel, including pilots, in near future.

“We will expand our fleet by up to 26 aircraft by the end of March next year. We need to build up for the expansion that we are going for. Every aircraft (inducted) needs 100 increase (in manpower) approximately. So we will naturally hire,” he told media. This would result in hiring requirement of at least 500 personnel, including a significant number of pilots. At present, GoAir’s head count is around 2,300, Prock-Schauer said.