Even as AirAsia India prepares to apply for a No Objection Certificate to start domestic operations, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has invested $379 million in India’s Jet Airways. The outlay gives Etihad a 24-percent share in India’s second largest carrier.
The Indian government’s new budget, released on February 28, brought little relief for the country’s ailing air transport sector, although the industry awaits a possible announcement of some reduction in high aviation fuel taxes. In particular, the budget documents made no mention of hoped-for fiscal support for India’s emerging regional airline industry.
The withdrawal of Kingfisher Airlines’ domestic airport slots and international flying rights by India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation on February 25 could make a phased restart of the carrier even more challenging. Meanwhile, authorities have de-registered 13 of the 37 aircraft parked in India, but airports haven’t allowed lessors to claim their assets until Kingfisher pays pending dues totaling $72 million.
“[Kingfisher has] to give some guarantee [to pay], said Airports Authority of India chairman V.P. Agrawal. “Bank checks worth $21 million…bounced. A legal issue is going on.”
Malaysia’s AirAsia has unveiled plans to launch a new domestic airline in India by the fourth quarter of 2013. Under the terms of a deal announced on February 21, the largest low-fare carrier in Asia will hold a 49-percent stake–the maximum holding permitted by the Indian government for a foreign investor–in the new airline. AirAsia is partnering with major Indian industrial groups Tata (to carry a 30-percent stake) and Telestra Tradeplace (21 percent).
India’s fastest growing and most successful airline–budget carrier IndiGo–has become the first victim of an October ruling by the country’s aircraft acquisition committee governing the number and kind of aircraft imported by airlines to encourage regional connectivity to smaller towns. In November the committee, led by civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, cleared for import only five of the 16 Airbus A320-series aircraft Indigo wanted to acquire.
India lost 9 percent of its airline seat capacity as a result of Kingfisher suspending operations since October 1, 2012, when its 66-aircraft fleet was grounded, according to Dinesh Keskar, Boeing’s senior sales vice president for Asia Pacific and India.
Mumbai-based Jet Airways last month announced the planned induction of five leased ATR 72-600s into its fleet. Scheduled to launch service with the first of the new 68-seat turboprops by the end of last year, Jet Airways said it expects to accept all five Gecas-sourced airplanes by the end of this March. The airline’s domestic expansion strategy centers on serving more so-called Tier II and Tier III destinations, according to Jet Airways COO Sudheer Raghavan.
Policy-making paralysis over much-needed reforms and liquidity concerns raised by the grounding of Kingfisher Airlines has deterred investors, vendors, lessors and suppliers from doing business in India’s air transport sector, according to delegates attending last month’s Asia-Pacific Airlines Association Assembly of Presidents in Kuala Lumpur. Association calculations show that average profits among Indian airlines amount to just $1 per passenger.
As highly taxed fuel, mounting debt and aggressive ticket pricing stifle the fledgling airline industry in India, the government seems ready to renege on its promise to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country’s carriers. Current rules do not permit foreign airlines to invest in domestic carriers, although non-aviation-related investors can hold up to a 49-percent stake.
In a reversal from an earlier policy, which gave state-owned Air India preference over bilateral aviation agreements for international routes, the Indian government will now open access to private airlines.