Mumbai: The United States government may bar charter flights operated by Air India for the Vande Bharat Mission, saying that they are allegedly violating a bilateral agreement by denying a US airline permission to conduct repatriation charters from India.
U.S government’s Department of Transport (DoT) said that Air India is conducting operations in the guise of charter flights, which has created a “competitive disadvantage” for U.S airlines.
DoT issued an order on June 22 to Air India saying that it requires “to obtain prior approval from the Department in the form of a statement of authorization before operating any Third and/or Fourth Freedom charter flights to or from the United States. We are taking this action because the Government of India (GoI) has impaired the operating rights of U.S. carriers and has engaged in discriminatory and restrictive practices with respect to U.S. carrier services to and from India.”
The order comes into effect after 30 days. It also alleged that Air India sold tickets to the public directly and planned to operate 59 flights (53% of commercial operations) in a period of one month.
The order accused India’s move to ban scheduled operations from March 23 and to disallow US charters is a violation of the Air Service Agreement of 2005 signed between both the countries.
“On May 19, 2020, an official from the Department advised Air India of the Department’s concerns that some, if not all, of Air India’s so-called evacuation charters, have gone beyond true evacuations (at least on India to the United States segments) and involved sales to any member of the general public able to enter the United States. On May 26, 2020, Delta Air Lines, Inc. (“Delta”), via letter, requested permission from the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to perform repatriation charter services similar to those provided by Air India. To date, Delta has not received approval to perform the requested repatriation charters.”
“As such, it appears that Air India may be using its passenger repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the GoI-imposed prohibition of all scheduled services. This situation, in which Indian airlines are permitted to perform services pursuant to their rights under the Agreement while U.S. carriers are not, creates a competitive disadvantage for U.S. carriers vis-à-vis Indian carriers, in contravention of the fair and equal opportunity to compete for provision of Article 11 of the Agreement,” it further said.
The US also accused India of ticketing the public while the flights operating were said to be chartered flights.