Saturday, November 15, 2014

India’s Latest Aviation Policy To Promote Regional Links

Mehair flies its Cessna 208 in the Andaman Islands and recently started services in Mumbai and nearby cities in the state of Maharashtra. (Photo: Mehair)
Neelam Mathews
Nov 14, 2014
In an effort to encourage regional airline connectivity, a new aviation policy in India set for release in January will no longer distinguish commercial airlines from charter services operating under Non Scheduled Operators Permits (NSOPs). According to the new guidelines, NSOP operators will have the option to convert themselves into Scheduled Commuter Airlines (SCA), allowing them access to tax exemptions enjoyed by the country’s commercial airlines. Those that do not opt for SCA status will now fly under the category called Air Charter Operators.
Already, state governments have sought to benefit from the policy. While Madhya Pradesh in central India became the first to appoint an operator for air-taxi services three years ago, the western state of Gujarat recently issued a letter of intent for intrastate air services for a period of three years to charter operator Mumbai-based Maritime Energy Heli Air Services (Mehair). Plans call for the services to start on December 22. Mehair already flies its Cessna 208 in the Andaman Islands and recently started services in Mumbai and nearby cities in the state of Maharashtra. It will soon start trial flights in Goa, where it has established ties with Goa Tourism.
We intend to have smaller aircraft flying if that helps connectivity…[even if it is] seasonal scheduled flying on tourism circuits…India should not have regulations for the sake of regulations,” Indian civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju told AIN. Raju added easing of the rule would also help free airlines' fleets to fly abroad “as they are not making full use of bilateral rights.”
According to the Business Aircraft Operators Association (BAOA), 33 NSOPs operate 46 aircraft capable of providing remote air connectivity. “They are all turboprops that can land on smaller runways with low operational costs,” said a BAOA official.
While commercial airlines have said codeshares with smaller operators will not make financial sense, Air India could consider franchising operations under its brand, chairman and managing director Rohit Nandan told AIN. “We could mandate a fixed number of hours a day and they can operate the rest of the time as they want,” he said.
Mehair’s planned service marks Gujarat’s second foray into air taxis following the pullout two years ago by Deccan Shuttles. This time around, the government has offered an enticement, however. “The single largest difference is a subsidy of $80,000 a month, which will help us pass the benefit to passengers…It is a big draw,” said Siddharth Verma, Mehair cofounder and director of Mehair. “Patience will be the key to our success.” The state has mandated that Mehair’s two Cessnas (it plans to add a Cessna 206 soon ) to fly at least 100 hours each per month.

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