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Regulator against diversion of flights to fill Jet Airways' trunk slots

No relief seen in fares as airlines can’t launch flights unless they get more aircraft.

, ET Bureau|
Apr 17, 2019, 06.59 AM IST
Carriers aren’t barred from cancelling flights on low-density routes provided passengers are informed two weeks in advance, airline executives said.
NEW DELHI: Air travellers are unlikely to get any relief on fares as the regulator has rejected proposals by carriers to take up trunk routes that Jet Airways — which has just six planes in the air — was forced to abandon. Regulatory officials said this was because carriers were pulling planes out of less lucrative sectors to use up the Jet Airways slots.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has informed the airlines that they cannot launch flights unless they augment their fleets. The airlines, however, argue that this is beyond the scope of the regulator’s authority, according to people with knowledge of the matter. It also appears to contradict the government’s move to get other carriers to fill up cancelled slots and keep fares in check, they said.

The carriers were seeking to launch flights on trunk routes such as Delhi-Mumbai and Mumbai-Bengaluru. To be sure, new plane deliveries will help bolster fleets and possibly fill up slots to some extent.

The order means that some airlines that had announced and launched flights from Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and other destinations will have to cancel them unless the regulator reconsiders its decision. That will mean ticket prices, already high because of the cancellations, are unlikely to moderate with the peak summer travel season coming up.

A DGCA source said that a few airlines were withdrawing flights on sensitive sectors to launch flights on trunk routes.

“While not commenting on any specific issue, as far as I know some airlines want change in approved summer schedule by withdrawing flights from remote/sensitive sectors and putting them on selected sectors,” said a top DGCA official. “While not changing an already approved schedule, DGCA always approves any additional schedule on priority (but not at the cost of other flights).”

The effect of the regulator’s order will be seen in a few days when airlines that have started these flights have to cancel them. An airline executive explained that carriers had started the flights as the rules allow them to do so for a three-day period pending the DGCA’s decision.

Vistara and AirAsia India may be the carriers most impacted by the DGCA decision. SpiceJet, however, will be able to launch flights in the Jet Airways slots, as it has announced plans to add 16 Boeing 737s and five Bombardier Q400s to its fleet. IndiGo is also unlikely to be impacted as it’s in the process of inducting new planes.

Carriers aren’t barred from cancelling flights on low-density routes provided passengers are informed two weeks in advance, airline executives said.

“The key question is: how can they determine commercial decisions made by airlines? How does it help to prevent them from adding capacity where Jet has vacated? How does it help by forcing them to cancel flights that were added and are heavily booked?” said a senior industry executive. He also added that the DGCA’s action goes against the aviation ministry’s attempt to keep fares low by asking airlines to replace schedules that have been cancelled by Jet Airways.

Jet Airways is estimated to have close to 400 unused departure slots across the country, including about 80 at Delhi and Mumbai, the two busiest airports in the country.

The cancellation of flights by Jet Airways led to drop of over 1 million seats between January and February causing turmoil and leading to a spike in fares. The slots had been allocated to IndiGo, SpiceJet, AirAsia India and Vistara under DGCA coordination, ET had reported on April 5. Jet Airways has seven planes operating, including six ATRs, compared with 106 in December last year.

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