AAI’s Unused Airfields Yet to be Put on Use

Till 2019, the staterun Airports Authority of India (AAI) is left with 126 airports, which include 50 unused airfields, including non-operational ones, which do not generate any productive value. Three years ago, the Government had come up with an ambitious plan named UDAN wherein it proposed to put such airports under some utilisation. But, the scheme could not take off as anticipated.

Also Read: 84 Routes Under the UDAN Scheme Have No Operator Now

Today, the government has realised that the country needs more number of airline pilots. It feels that there is a burgeoning demand for pilots in India and overseas. A new school of thought has emerged in the aviation ministry. That is, more schools for pilots should be opened up because India does have adequate human capital and it can produce enough pilots to meet not just its own demand but also supply pilots to the world!

India’s pilot shortage

India’s shortage of pilots, especially of commanders, is increasing as airlines expand aggressively. According to industry estimates, the country now has about 8,000 pilots and its airlines will require an additional 17,000 in the next 10 years. There is also global demand for pilots, especially from carriers in China and the Middle East.

India’s current pilot producing capacity is not enough to meet the country’s needs. It has 32 training institutes that produce about 300 pilots against the requirement of 800 a year. The country’s fast expanding carriers have to hire foreign pilots otherwise they have to cancel flights at times. Jet Airways pilots, for instance, found jobs quickly with other carriers when the airline went  bankrupt recently.

AAI’s disused airfields may be turned into pilot academies

As such, the government has started work on a plan to turn the AAI’s ideal airfields into pilot academies. It is not considering their Real Estate virtues even after the flopped UDAN show. Those properties could have been utilised much more profitably by recognising its real-estate value and setting up a suitable industry by utilising judiciously the locally available resources.

The said plan envisages to activate as many airports — either non-operational or the ones used only sparingly — as possible. There could be various other airports or airstrips that could be used for pilot training.

Also Read: Republic Airways Offers OU Pilots Job Opportunities

The AAI board has rcently approved the proposal and formed a three-member panel headed by former Indian Air Force chief Fali H Major to decide on the number of airports that can be offered to pilot schools. It has not yet clarified how it will mobilise funds for such a venture. There is still no co-ordination among the general education system, and the Industry. Flying training in India is more expensive than many other countries, and one reason is taxation on fuel for trainer aircraft. The government must come up with a viable plan, it may have to look at the option of providing subsidies to make this scheme a success.

Air Force chief Fali H Major is an independent member of the AAI board. The others on the committee, which is to submit its report in three months, are Vineet Gulati, AAI’s member (air navigation services), and Anil Gill, deputy director, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The idea came from director general of civil aviation Arun Kumar, also a member of AAI’s board, said persons with knowledge of the matter.

The team headed by the former IAF chief Fali H Major now has a challenging task in hand. It has to justify the government’s decision of opening up more pilot schools like this on three main counts:

  • the pilot training program must be cheaper than the prevailing rates
  • a commercially better utilisation of the land that other real-estate schemes could have provided
  • should not depend upon the government’s sops, subsidies or any other form of concessions

This has become more significant since the UDAN scheme has flopped miserably before. In all probability, the Team Fali may like to consider an option which stems from the potential of non-aeronautical revenue which is inherently associated with every airport – functional or non-functional. 

Experts said the initiative will need to be augmented by other measures. Shakti Lumba, a former pilot who used to head operations at Air India and IndiGo says, “There are things like weather, visibility and Air Traffic Control factors that should be taken into account while deciding on the airports that will be shortlisted for flying institutes. The government should also provide incentives.”




Broken aviation complaints system favours the interests of airlines over passengers: Which?

Which? has recently criticised Ryanair compensation arrangements.

Nowadays, airlines are able to pick and choose between schemes which suits them. It can result in different results for the victim passengers.

According to Which?,  a major overhaul of aviation complaints is needed. All airlines should be made to sign up to a single dispute resolution service that makes binding decisions within a reasonable timeframe.

The situation arose because of one recent Ryanair’s behaviour.

Which? has disclosed that Ryanair was asked to pay more than £3.6 million in handling fees and compensation in 2018. But it quit the aviation complaints body which later became a controversial decision.

Ryan Air

With such ostrich like actions, airlines shirk their responsibilities towards their passengers. Ryanair may apparently have saved millions for itself – but it invites a huge loss in its credibility. It leaves its passengers jumping from pillar to post to get the compensation they deserve. This happens when Ryanair like airlines refuse to pay out when their flights are delayed or cancelled.

Also ReadAfter Thomas Cook, Norwegian Seems to be Headed Into Bankruptcy

The aviation world has recently seen airlines go bankrupt one after another. A given airline has to go through a number of difficulties like strikes, bad weather, maintenance issues, bird-hits, delays and stiff competition. Besides, airlines regularly undergo a plethora of other financial problems. But, they are all well-known risk factors. The due cover must have been envisaged before undertaking an airline business.

Most of the largest airlines flying from the UK are signed up to one of two UK schemes, Aviation ADR or CEDR. Although both have been authorised to handle escalated passenger complaints,  none of these have become mandatory since 2016.

In the first 11 months of 2018, Aviation ADR received more than 14,000 Ryanair complaints and the airline was told to pay out more than £2.6 million to passengers in compensation between October 2018 and the end of March 2019, according to the most recent complaints data.

Ryanair also had to pay at least £75 for each complaint Aviation ADR handled – suggesting a bill for more than £1 million in fees alone during 2018.

Also Read: Boeing completes Ryanair 737-800 deliveries

But after Ryanair cut ties with the arbitration scheme at the end of November 2018, only 553 passengers in total pursued claims with the Civil Aviation Authority in the following four months – resulting in a huge saving in fees and compensation for Ryanair. It can not be compelled to pay out even if the aviation regulator finds the ruling in a passenger’s favour.

As of April 2019, 466 of these claims were unresolved and official figures do not reveal if anyone had received compensation.

Even when Ryanair was with Aviation ADR, passengers complained of waiting as long as a year to receive any money – despite a pledge that claims would be processed within 90 days.

Which? has suggested the aviation sector to have a single mandatory resolution scheme which handles complaints swiftly and has some real power to implement.

This will possoibly put an end to the current damaging behaviour.

Until these changes are made, it will continue to be far too easy for airlines like Ryanair to get away from  promptly refunding consumers who are left out of pocket through no fault of their own.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor said: “The broken aviation complaints system allows them to wriggle out of paying compensation and putting many people off claiming at all. The uphill struggle that many have faced trying to claim the compensation they are owed has left thousands of holidaymakers significantly out of pocket for delayed and cancelled flights. It demonstrates why all airlines must be made to sign up to a single resolution scheme with real power to ensure passengers are treated fairly and money is paid out where it’s due.”




Virgin Atlantic Could Not Grow In India Due to Jet Airways Collapse

New Delhi: The closure of Jet Airways (India) Limited changed the India growth plans of Virgin Atlantic. The British airline, which had a code share partnership with Jet Airways, then started its own services between London and Mumbai, as per the airline’s country manager (India) David Hodges.

“We had a code-share partnership with Jet Airways, and we planned to grow that,” Hodges said adding, “Unfortunately, the grounding of Jet Airways changed our growth plans.”

Also Read : Explainer: Jet Airways crisis

One airline books its passengers on its partner carriers and provide seamless travel to destinations, where it has no presence by virtue of Code-sharing.

Virgin Atlantic will now start its own daily flights between London and Mumbai from 27 October to utilize the space vacated by Jet Airways, which operated three daily flights on this high demand sector. Jet Airways also flew a daily flight between Mumbai and Manchester.

“There was a lot of capacity (between Mumbai and London/Manchester). We were looking to increase our presence in the partnership with Jet Airways and probably fly one Virgin Airways flight between England and India (of the flights flown by Jet Airways),” Hodges said. “We need to be quick and nimble (after Jet’s grounding). So, we decided to start our own services between London and Mumbai.”Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic currently also has a daily flight between London and New Delhi.

Jet Airways suspended operations in April because of a severe cash crunch. A consortium of 26 banks led by the State Bank of India (SBI) has approached the National Company Law Tribunal (NMCLT) to recover dues worth more than 8,500 crore.

As things stand, Jet Airways has run a loss of more than 13,000 crore in the past few years. Its total liabilities amount to more than 15,000 crore even as lenders have been trying to sell the beleaguered airline as a going concern, but without much success.

Hodges said Virgin Atlantic was looking at forging new partnerships with Indian airlines, which could help the airline get traffic from smaller Indian cities and town. The airline, which already has an interline partnership with Vistara, is looking to forge more such partnerships or code share agreements with other Indian airlines.

“Now, the plan is how we grow in India. Having a code-share with Vistara is definitely an option for us,” Hodges said. “Interline with Vistara has given us great connections from Mumbai and New Delhi. It’s however not very simple. Lots of commercial considerations and decisions will have to be made for this alliance.”

An interline agreement is typically signed between two or more airlines to handle passengers when their itinerary involves travelling on multiple airlines. Such agreements allow passengers to change flights to one on another airline without having to check-in again.

Interlining agreements differ from code-share agreements as the latter usually refers to numbering a flight with the airline’s code even though the flight is operated by another airline.

Meanwhile, going ahead, Virgin Atlantic could look to operate between cities other than New Delhi and Mumbai, and London as the airline plans to tap the number of passengers traveling to England and Europe from other Indian metros.

“I have spoken to a number of Indian airports, and this is an interesting opportunity. There are also other high growth cities across South and North India,” Hodges said. “Bangalore is the next natural city we want to fly from in future, and one that we are currently not flying from.”

Virgin Atlantic will operating its Boeing 787-9 (Dreamliner) fleet between London and Mumbai. The airline currently operates Airbus 330 aircraft on its London-Delhi route. The airline hopes to also provide onward connections to destinations in Europe, South America, North America and South Africa from London for its passengers flying from India.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to compete with bigger airlines like British Airways in terms of network and network size,” Hodges added.




Thomas Cook Collapsed, Other European Airlines on Brink

Thomas CookA sad story of Thomas Cook: being reported only for the sake of reporting.

Its official now. By 23 September 2019, the 178-year-old company, Thomas Cook (TCG.L) along with a trio of subsidiary airlines has collapsed. Its stores across Northamptonshire have shut their doors. Thomas Cook branches in Weston Favell and Northampton’s Abington Street have also closed for good. Two travel stores in Kettering in Lower Street and at Asda, stores in Wellingborough’s Swansgate Centre and Corporation Street in Corby have also closed.

Hitherto known as a travel giant, its thousands of employees have been rendered jobless. This includes about 1,000 workers at their nearby Peterborough HQ.

Today, the grand old travel firm finds itself being put into compulsory liquidation. A weekend of frantic talks could not save Thomas Cook. Tens of thousands of its holidaymakers have been left in the lurch around the globe.

The closure of Thomas Cook and the subsequent cancellation of all its flights has forced the launch of an operation by the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It is one of the largest repatriation in recent British history. This has been codenamed Operation Matterhorn.

This repatriation is hugely complex and the CAA and the government are working around the clock to support the Thomas Cook customers. All such passengers currently overseas who are booked to return to the UK over the next two weeks will be brought home as close as possible to their booked return date by providing new flights to return to the UK.

A CAA spokesman clarified:

“The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority are now working together to do everything we can to support passengers due to fly back to the UK with Thomas Cook between September 23 and October 6. Depending on your location, this will be either on CAA-operated flights or by using existing flights with other airlines.

If you are already abroad you will find all the information you need about your arrangements to get home on this website. If you are due to depart from a UK airport with Thomas Cook Airlines, please do not travel to your UK airport as your flight will not be operating and you will not be able to travel.

These repatriation flights will only be operating for the next two weeks (until October 6). After this date you will have to make your own travel arrangements. From a small number of locations, passengers will have to book their own return flights.”

Also ReadJet Airways pushed further to the brink of collapse

Virgin Atlantic is one of the airlines taking part in the CAA scheme. A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson stated: “We’re sorry to learn that Thomas Cook has ceased trading earlier today and recognise the impact on its customers and staff in the UK and abroad. Virgin Atlantic is working closely with the CAA to repatriate Thomas Cook customers impacted in Cuba, Jamaica and the United States, to ensure they will be able to complete their journey as planned. We have allocated available space on our scheduled flights, and are also providing special flights to repatriate Thomas Cook passengers abroad.”

Similarly, a representative for the easyJet airline stated: “We are sorry to see the news about Thomas Cook and appreciate the anxiety that their customers will be facing now. easyJet is working with the CAA to provide a fully crewed A320 aircraft to support the repatriation efforts over the coming days.”

Besides, British Airways is also offering flights for Thomas Cook passengers returning to the UK from destinations like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Cancun.

Aviation analysts observe that the strains that sank Thomas Cook weigh on other European airlines as well. Several such companies are struggling with similar problems.

Two small operators, Aigle Azur and XL Airways, are before the French bankruptcy courts today. The list of similar bankruptcies is long: Monarch, Air Berlin and Alitalia failed in 2017, Primera and Cobalt in 2018, and Germania, Flybmi and Iceland’s WOW so far in 2019.

Today in aviation sector, there is very little left for cheer. Larger European carriers are not immune from the threat of collapse. Regional operator Flybe’s sale to a Virgin Atlantic-led consortium just managed to avoid its closure. Third-ranked low-cost operator Norwegian Air (NWC.OL), which has bled cash while making inroads in the transatlantic market, somehow managed to get a reprieve from creditors last week, postponing repayment on $380 million in debt for up to two years.

Customers can find out how to book on to the repatriation flights through the CAA website: www.thomascook.caa.co.uk.




After Posting Rs 4,600 crore operating loss in 2018-19, Air India Aims Operating Profit This Fiscal

NEW DELHI:

Air India posted an operating loss of around Rs 4,600 crore in the last financial year. The reasons attributed by its management are :

– higher oil prices and

– foreign exchange losses

The debt-laden carrier expects to turn operationally profitable in 2019-20, as per its senior officials.

Reflecting tough business conditions, the airline’s net loss stood at about Rs 8,400 crore while total revenues touched around Rs 26,400 crore in 2018-19.

Another senior official of Air India said the airline is projected to post an operating profit of Rs 700 to 800 crore in 2019-20, provided oil prices do not shoot up significantly and there is no steep fluctuation in foreign exchange rates.

However, the airline incurred an operating loss of Rs 175 to 200 crore in the three months ended June as closure of Pakistan airspace for Indian carriers resulted in higher costs and caused a daily loss of Rs 3 to 4 crore when the restrictions were in place, the official said.

Also Read: Air India Life Curve Sees the Lowest Trough, Will it Ever Recover?

Air India had a loss of Rs 430 crore in the four-month period when Pakistan closed its airspace after the Balakot air strikes.

Last week, state-owned oil marketing companies (OMCs), led by IndianOil, had stopped fuel supply to Air India at six — Ranchi, Mohali, Patna, Vizag, Pune and Cochin — airports over non-payment of dues.

The official noted that load factor and yields are improving for Air India, which currently flies to 41 international and 72 domestic destinations. Load factor is a measure of seat occupancy and yield refers to average fare paid per passenger.

The situation is anticipated to improve further as more wide-body planes would be available for operations in the coming months, the official added. Air India had grounded several of its wide-body aircraft for maintenance and most of them are in the process of being re-inducted into the fleet.

Air India is to start flying to Toronto from September 27 and to Nairobi in November.

The airline has a debt burden of more than Rs 58,000 crore and servicing the loans is a major challenge as the annual outgo is more than Rs 4,000 crore.

The official who was quoted first said the carrier is facing a financial crisis and disinvestment is the option.

Aviation consultancy CAPA South Asia CEO and Director Kapil Kaul said Air India’s financial position is likely to “significantly improve” in the current financial year.

“CAPA expects a closer to break-even in FY 20 excluding increased costs incurred due to closure of Pakistan airspace. With oil prices expected to stay below USD 60, expect a closer to break-even for Air India in FY 20,” he told PTI.

Noting that improved financial performance would be a positive for divestment, Kaul said a fully divested Air India that is well capitalised and with improved governance and management would ensure that the airline has a relevant future.

India needs a stronger Air India which is viable without taxpayers’ support, he added.

The government has decided on disinvestment of Air India as part of efforts to revive its fortunes. Air India, which has been in the red for long, was sanctioned a nearly Rs 30,000 crore bailout package for a 10-year period by the UPA regime in 2012.




Boeing 737 MAX is not expected to return to service until JANUARY 2020

Boeing’s 737 MAX is not expected to return to service until January 2020 as regulators expand safety checks after the jets were grounded in March following two deadly crashes.

Aviation experts and analysts say they expect the lengthy delay as the Federal Aviation Administration pledges to resolve all safety issues before allowing the planes back in the air, The Wall Street Journal reports.

No official timeline has been confirmed by the company but the checks on software has repeatedly delayed their progress with a growing list of issues for them to look over.

Boeing is now said to be looking at other potential problems, including emergency recovery procedures to electronic components. Some checks are said to be looking at earlier 737 models too.

Boeing’s 737 MAX is not expected to return to service until January 2020. A number of the grounded aircraft can be seen parked at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington.

The scene of the Ethiopian Airlines crash near Addis Ababa on March 10 was horrific. The crash set off one of the widest inquiries in aviation history and cast a shadow over the Boeing 737 MAX model intended to be a standard for decades.

The specific software fix to automated system MCAS is said to have been completed and waiting for approval.

But additional concerns have now been raised from studies and tests on the jet in the interim.

And even once the fixes are completed Boeing will need both the FAA to approve them and airlines to carry out their own maintenance procedures, according to experts.

PROBLEMS ON BOARD THE BOEING 737 MAX

The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March after an Ethiopian Airlines plane plunged to the ground soon after take-off, five months after a similar Lion Air fatal crash off the coast of Indonesia.

Concerns were initially raised after a system called MCAS overpowered pilot commands, pushing down the noses of both jets that crashed.

Experts then raised concern over pilots being able to manually move a flight-control wheel in extreme circumstances amid more testing.

Then in in June further a new flaw was uncovered that is estimated it will take until at least September to fix.

American Airlines Group Inc said on Sunday it is extending for a fourth time cancellations of about 115 daily flights into early November due to the ongoing grounding of the jets.

The airline’s decision was expected after the FAA, which must reapprove the jets for flight following two fatal crashes, last month uncovered a new flaw that Boeing had estimated will take until at least September to fix.

Boeing has said it will ‘provide the FAA and the global regulators whatever information they need,’ and will not offer the 737 MAX ‘for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements’.

The 737 MAX, which had been Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft thanks to its fuel-efficient engines and longer ranger, was grounded worldwide in March after an Ethiopian Airlines plane plunged to the ground soon after take-off, five months after a similar Lion Air fatal crash off the coast of Indonesia.

Boeing hopes a software upgrade and new pilot training will add layers of protection to prevent erroneous data from triggering a system called MCAS, which was activated in both the planes before they crashed.

American, the world’s largest airline and the second largest MAX operator in the United States, most recently had planned to keep the MAX, which it used on most flights between New York’s LaGuardia airport and Miami, off its schedule through September 3.

Boeing is now looking at other potential problems including emergency recovery procedures to electronic components, with some checks looking at cover earlier 737 models

American, with 24 737 MAX aircraft and dozens more on order, is scheduling without the jets through Nov. 2.

‘American Airlines remains confident that impending software updates to the Boeing 737 MAX, along with the new training elements Boeing is developing in coordination with our union partners, will lead to recertification of the aircraft this year,’ the airline said in a statement on Sunday.

It has been substituting other aircraft for its busiest flights while canceling others and temporarily suspending direct flights between Oakland, California, and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Among other U.S. MAX carriers, Southwest Airlines Co has removed the aircraft from its scheduling through Oct. 1, and United Airlines Holdings until Nov. 3. Southwest is the world’s largest MAX operator.