New Delhi: The Union Ministry of Civil Aviation will reallocate Jet Airways’ international slots to other airlines at a meeting Friday, landing a fresh blow to the besieged private carrier amid dimming hopes of its revival.
Since the cash-strapped and debt-laden airline suspended operations last month, over 85 aircraft of its fleet of 119 have been de-registered — which means lessors with unpaid dues have been allowed to lease them to other airlines.
The order for 10 Boeing planes has been cancelled, the airline has lost its domestic slots, and several members of its brass — including the chief operating officer, company secretary and even the chief executive officer — have resigned.
Meanwhile, there’s been no healthy bid from investors to get India’s oldest private airline back in the sky.
The reallocation of Jet Airways’ international routes will be discussed at a meeting Friday, with Air India, the country’s flag carrier that is itself grappling with debt but still running, likely to get the bulk of the slots.
Experts described the reallocation as perhaps the final nail in Jet Airways’ collapse.
“If you allot slots in international routes, they cannot be interim. The switch is permanent,” said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, a former instructor pilot for Boeing 737. “Jet’s value will diminish enormously.”
Air India ‘bonanza’
Among Indian carriers, Air India currently has the maximum number of international flights, with the airline serving 380 routes.
There are 33 weekly Air India flights to the US, to Chicago, New York JFK, San Francisco, Washington Dulles, and Newark, besides 66 to Europe that serve London, Vienna, Paris, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Madrid, Rome, Milan, Stockholm and Birmingham.
Before it went under, Jet Airways served over 350 international routes.
“Only Air India has the aircraft to fly to Europe, America and the far east. Vistara is ready but vested interests will scuttle Vistara getting them [Jet Airways’ international slots],” Captain Ranganathan said.
Asked if there were any set guidelines for the reallocation of slots in aviation, Captain Ranganathan said that, in India, it was based on the connections one has.
Mark Martin of the West Asia-based Martin Consulting, an aviation consultancy, echoed the view. “Every other country has some… checks and balances in terms of set guidelines in such situations but Indian aviation never follows any SOP [standard operating procedure],” he said.
“There has been no rule in shape or structure,” he added. “Guidelines are there but there is no process. There is a clear defined process in other countries but India never had one.”
Aerospace analyst Saj Ahmad of Strategic Aero Research said the “likelihood of Jet Airways routes being distributed equitably is nil”.
“Furthermore, neither SpiceJet or GoAir, nor IndiGo operates any wide bodies to open up services to say London Heathrow… so, by default, the disaster that is Air India may end up getting these routes,” he added.
“Even Vistara/Air Asia India don’t have wide bodies for international flights, so unless the ministry offers them to these carriers, I am not convinced they will be able to operate Jet Airways planes like the 777 as they have no experience at all and the costs (crew maintenance/pilots/training) would be sky high,” he said. “Thus Air India may get these slots.”
However, Ranganathan said Air India would need to “get [around] 20 grounded aircraft back in air, before they can fill their own routes”, referring to the 17 aircraft that have been grounded over the past few months because the carrier doesn’t have money for spares.
This argument was refuted by an Air India spokesperson, who said the grounded aircraft were not a factor in the slots coming to the airline. “To take the international slots, we need not have long-range aircraft because in countries like Dubai, Colombo, an airbus will be operated. We are expecting some international slots to be allocated to us for sure.”