Within hours of Jet Airways announcing an investment deal with Abu Dhabi-based-Etihad came the announcement that India and UAE had agreed to increase the weekly flying rights between the two countries by nearly four times.
With civil aviation ministry bureaucrats holding talks with their UAE counterpart even as the foreign direct investment (FDI) deal was being announced, the two governments agreed to allocate an additional entitlement of 36,670 seats per week to the existing 13,600.
Industry experts said India needed to have a clear bilateral policy. “This speaks poorly about how we manage bilateral policy,” said Kapil Kaul, CEO, South Asia of aviation consultancy firm, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa).
“Three months back we were told there was no bilateral for West Asia carriers. We must open our bilateral but with tangible assessment of benefits to India and not just theoretical assumptions,” Kaul said.
Jitender Bhargava, a former executive director of Air India said it was surprising how India agreed to give so many seats in the current market scenario.
“The Indian aviation market is witnessing negative growth. How can you add seats? Is it not criminal? And why give so many seats for just one sector? Tomorrow, you will have Emirates and Qatar asking for more rights. Can you have a different yardstick for them? No, you cannot," Bhargava said.
“This is the making of a scam. Where is the accountability? You disregard the opinion of stakeholders like airlines and airports so there has to be a logical argument behind it," he said.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, in its report on Air India, had said the liberal award of bilateral rights was one reason for the national carrier's decline and the government should renegotiate them.