In a push for reforms, new civil aviation policy bids adieu to archaic 5/20; FDI extended to 100%

Going high on reform agenda, this time on the civil aviation front, the cabinet has approved doing away with the archaic 5/20 rule, and has pushed for an overhaul in policy. In a bid to increase competitiveness, under new policy guidelines, domestic airlines would need to operate a fleet of twenty aircrafts or twenty percent of their flying capacity, whichever is higher, to fly on international routes.

Air India ExpressPM tweeted soon after the announcement was made, stating that it was a step forward in ‘transforming India’. “The new aviation policy gives an impetus to affordability, regional connectivity, safety, infrastructure, which is vital for #TransformingIndia,” he tweeted. He also added it would “transform the sector & greatly benefit passengers.” Commenting on the development after the cabinet meeting, Information Technology and Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said “Connecting the unconnected and serving the un-served is the motto of the civil aviation policy. The questionable legacy of the ‘5/20 rule’ has been thrown into the dustbin today.”

Signaling a deep willingness for enhanced international connectivity, the policy adopts an open-sky policy for nations beyond 5,000 kilometers radius on a reciprocal basis, giving airlines unlimited access in relation to flights and seats to Indian airports. It could, in the immediate future, increase flight frequencies from SAARC and European nations. 

With the aim of pushing air-ticket sales to 30 crores by 2022, the government has improved regional connectivity in mind as capping fare of an hour long flight at INR 2500 is likely to encourage air-travel. Losses caused to airlines while operating on such under-served routes will be compensated. In fact, ceiling of airfares are going to be proportional to the flying time, meaning a thirty minute flight on such routes would cost INR 1200, whereas a fourty-five minute air-journey would be capped at INR 1800. Route dispersal guidelines have been amended to add six more sectors as metro routes, meaning domestic airlines are needed to provide more frequency and connections to the north-eastern region, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.  As per the mandate of new guidelines, on such north-eastern and other routes, airlines are needed to fly 10 per cent of their total capacity they operate on metro routes.

Certain technical aspects like cess charged by the government on domestic routes to pay for subsidized flights are being finalized after the announcement.

On the infrastructure front, in a massive doze to India’s brimming airports and regional air-connectivity, over 350 unused air-strips would be developed as ‘no-frills’ airport to diversify load and, of course, increase connectivity.

In addition, in a bid to attract foreign investments to boost nation’s civil aviation market, 100 percent FDI investment has been allowed.  Previously, 49% FDI was allowed under the automatic route in domestic airlines. But government approval will be needed for investments beyond 49%.

The debate on 5/20 has been raging for a while now and its conclusion with the decision to lowering the bar for domestic carriers is a welcome move. It is expected to boost competitiveness and make more Indians fly, aiding travel and tourism on a much larger scale.

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