Business aircraft operators are encountering barriers to participating in India’s Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), which is supposed to stimulate cost-effective air service to second- and third-tier cities. The first flights under the program, which is intended to boost service to some 325 airports and airstrips around the vast country, are due to be made in March, according to the Airport Authority of India (AAI). To date, prospective operators have bid to add service at just 19 of these airports.
“It is a good policy plan that has fallen short of implementation,” said Rohit Kapur, former president of India’s Business Aviation Operators Association (BAOA).
For instance, charter companies wanting to operate under the RCS now need to complete a new certification process to qualify under the new designation of scheduled commuter airline (SCA). “This is an extra conservative approach,” said Kapur, questioning the necessity of introducing a new layer of approval for existing charter operators.
Aircraft operating under the RCS need to have two engines. “If a single-engine aircraft is good to operate as a charter, why is it not under the SCA?” asked Kapur, who was participating in a February 13 “Enabling Business Through Air Connectivity” conference in Bangalore, on the eve of this week’s Aero India show. At the same time, he complained that authorities are not doing sufficient due diligence on some new companies applying to be accepted into the RCS program.
According to RK Chaukiyal, executive director of AAI, which is implementing RCS, there has been a “good response” to the program. He told the conference that most operators applying so far are looking to provide flights with aircraft seating between 20 and 80 passengers. RCS is due to run for 10 years, and Chaukiyal indicated that changes could be made along the way, as more bids will be opened up in the next six months.
However, aviation consultant Mark Martin questioned the AAI’s rationale for operating the RCS. “It looks like a work in progress,” he told the conference. “If they keep changing the policy, what will happen to the initial bidders? Are we grasping in the dark? This doesn’t make sustainable sense.”
An international operator speaking on condition of anonymity told AIN, “You do not need complicated bidding to give routes. Just let them fly to airports that are available,” he cautioned.
With a fragmented underutilized business aircraft fleet in India, BAOA is looking at ways to consolidate these aircraft, said BAOA president Jayant Nadkarni. “There has to be a seamless link between operators with a transparency, though not cartelization. Only then will utilization start increasing,” he stated.
Around 45 percent of India’s business aviation fleet is underutilized said Kanika Tekriwal, CEO and founder of Indian charter broker JetSetGo. “This is a reason why we do not encourage people to buy aircraft in India. It makes no sense.”