India Removes A380 Restrictions but Obstacles Persist

 - January 27, 2014, 12:00 PM
Emirates Airline, the largest A380 operator in the world, cannot fly its superjumbos to India in the absence of a new bilateral air services agreement. (Photo: Airbus)

India has lifted restrictions on the Airbus A380 airliner to land at four Code F compliant airports, the country’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) announced Monday. But while the industry has applauded the move, the government has not made it an effortless exercise, as major carriers wanting to fly their A380s to India run short on service entitlements.

“Bilateral air service agreements (ASAs) that prohibit operation of A380s to India will need to be amended before permission is granted,” the MoCA said in a statement.

“Rationalization of traffic rights from services per week to seats per week shall be done through mutual negotiations through memoranda of understanding.” Airports will require Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) certification and “make adequate preparation in terms of various services required,” the statement added.

“In India everything takes time; ASAs are not easy to arrange overnight,” a senior airline official told AIN. “This looks like an attempt by the government to show it is moving things. In reality, national carrier Air India will get more breathing space.”

While India delayed a decision on permitting the A380 to land at the four airports, seat entitlements evaporated as carriers continued to add capacity. For example, Emirates, the biggest A380 customer, has shown interest for the past three years, but cannot start operations until the UAE and India hold new bilateral talks. India now stands as Emirates’ second largest market after Dubai. The carrier operates 185 flights and 55,000 seats a week to 10 destinations on the subcontinent.

Singapore Airlines, another major A380 operator that has expressed interest in flying its superjumbos to India, finds itself in a situation similar to that of Emirates, SIA v-p of public affairs Nicholas Ionides told AIN. “India is indeed a market we would consider operating A380s to in future,” he said. “At present we have no confirmed plans.” 

Bilateral agreements with Singapore have reached capacity on all regulated routes, meaning SIA would have to cut frequencies to operate the A380 into India. “I’m not sure if SIA will want to do that,” said Brendan Sobie, and analysts with Sydney-based Center for Asia Pacific Aviation. “Obviously Singapore would like the bilateral extended allowing SIA to up-gauge without adding frequencies. But I don’t know if India would consider another capacity increase beyond the increment agreed to last year.”

Lufthansa, which operates the new Boeing 747-8 to India, must also negotiate a new bilateral agreement before adding A380 capacity to India. It, however, evidently sees a clear path to doing so as it prepares to launch Indian services with A380s, likely by the winter of 2014-2015.

Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore airports comply with ICAO Code F, which lists facilities required for the A380 for runways, taxiways linking runways and aircraft parking bays. Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport, the country’s busiest, in mid-2010 hosted a special inaugural flight of Emirates’ A380 to commemorate the opening of a new terminal. “Delhi is immediately capable and duly equipped to handle up to 12 A380 aircraft simultaneously and in full compliance with ICAO and DGCA mandates,” confirmed an airport spokesman.