India’s private carriers will fly after Aug 18 after all


New Delhi: Faced with stern action by the government and all-round resentment and anguish expressed by air travellers, private airlines in India late Sunday called off their proposal to suspend domestic operations from Aug 18.

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In a communique issued in Mumbai, the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), a representative body of private carriers, said its secretary general Anil Baijal was able to “impress upon” the members to hold back their decision.

In the peculiarly worded statement, the federation said the decision was also taken in view of the government’s decision to hold a dialogue regarding the problems faced by the private carriers. The regulator had already warned them.

“In view of the agitated public sentiment and potential inconvenience to thousands of passengers on the one hand and government’s willingness to enter into dialogue on the other, Anil Baijal, the secretary general of the FIA, has been able to impress upon the private airlines, including IndiGo, to put on hold their decision to suspend flights on Aug 18,” said the statement.

“The secretary general of the FIA hopes that constructive dialogue with the government will lead to redressal of the problems faced by the aviation industry,” it added.

These airlines had earlier issued a threat that they will not fly from Aug 18 if a bailout package is not announced by the government to help them tide over the ongoing crisis, which they claim has escalated their collective losses to over $2 billion.

Among the various demands from the federation are: Direction to state governments to cut the sales tax on aviation fuel, direction to oil retailers for reducing jet fuel prices and reduction in the airport charges, which they say have ballooned ever since private players were allowed into the field.

Apart from claiming accumulated losses of over $2 billion, the private carriers owe nearly $500 million towards fuel to oil companies. The civil aviation ministry, however, has ruled out any bailout package for the aviation industry.

The decision Sunday came a day after Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said the government was not in a position to help private airlines financially, even as the industry watchdog sought an explanation within 48 hours on the reason behind their move.

Even as the federation was deciding on its next move, an official spokesperson said the state-run carrier Air India said will push more flights into service Aug 18 to minimise any inconvenience to passengers if the private carriers suspend their operations.

In the meanwhile, however, low-cost carrier IndiGo said it was withdrawing from the federation’s general decision to suspend operations and would prefer to hold a dialogue with the government to come out of the crisis.

“IndiGo appreciates the sentiments expressed by the ministry of civil aviation that it understands the problems faced by the Indian aviation industry and that we should all engage in a dialogue with the ministry,” said IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh.