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India foxed by EU law on air pacts

EU proposal to India seeks sharing of air service pacts between its member states, reports Nandini R Iyer.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2006 23:31 IST

A proposal from the European Union (EU) to India seeking the sharing of available air service agreements between its member states has foxed the government, because it would indirectly force India to yield ground to several nations in an arrangement that New Delhi wants to be purely bilateral.

The proposal prompted by a recently passed EU law, if accepted, would be like a tenant transferring a rented property without the owner's consent.

The EU proposal to India wants to allow member states to make use of unutilised air traffic routes under bilateral agreements with other union states. For example, if India has a bilateral agreement with Germany to allow 10 flights into that country, and Germany makes use of only five, the remaining five can be used by any other EU country.

The proposal under the new law has been presented to the Indian government, which is clearly uncomfortable with it. Government officials believe it will be an unequal contract with no special benefits to India, which would be conceding more ground than it gets in return.

“Three rounds of discussions with EU have been held but we still want to hold more internal consultations before taking a final view,” said a government official, who did not want to be named.

The government has also issued an inter-ministerial note on the issue. While the proposed agreement will improve the overall utilisation of traffic rights by the EU as a whole, the union not offered any reciprocal benefits to India, the note says. A key point is that New Delhi does not have the flexibility that European nations will have with each other.

“If India has rights to 10 flights to German cities but is utilising only five, we cannot use the other five routes to fly to Britain or Finland or some other EU member state,” the official explained.

"These are indeed very real concerns of our side," a senior official in the Ministry of External Affairs told Hindustan Times, but added that this was essentially a matter for the Civil Aviation Ministry to resolve.

"While we are seeking closer co-operation with the European Union, there are concerns about this proposal being unequal in favour of the other side," he said.
Security agencies also have problems with the proposal.

In the current situation, each nation specifies its inbound flights. "Different nations would be utilising various inbound flight routes at short notice, making it difficult to keep track of what flights are coming in and from which destination," an official from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security told Hindustan Times.

The Civil Aviation Ministry is also concerned that the proposed agreement could lead to an increase in fuel costs. Globally, airlines are exempt from duties and taxes on aviation fuel in operations by airlines of third countries.

An Indian carrier refuelling in Berlin on way to London is at present exempt from taxes, but under the proposed agreement, taxes will apply.

The inter-ministerial note states that the text and provisions of the EU proposal have been formulated in a manner that its provisions, once signed, would be "superimposed" on all existing bilateral agreements with EU member states.

A government lawyer clarified that should the agreement be signed, India for its part would be agreeing to allow its provisions to override existing air service agreements with EU member states and the individual nations themselves would not object as they are EU member states.

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First Published: Nov 03, 2006 22:53 IST