Jet Airways suspended operations for an interim but indefinite period of time exactly a week ago at 1900 IST. Since then, the airline management, lenders, and potential investors have been worried about that one key asset which will play the primary role in chalking out its future roadmap. We are talking about slots.
The first official meeting between senior government officials of the civil aviation ministry and domestic airlines regarding slots of Jet Airways took place on March 20, when the bleeding carrier was still in operation albeit with a rapidly declining fleet, then at 35.
“Airports have limited slots, have to ask Jet Airways…how many slots they would use and how many they wouldn’t. We will offer Jet’s unused slots to other airlines…we will frame a contingency plan,” a senior government official said post that meeting on March 20.
What was not clear then was the fact that meetings had already started taking place between airlines and airport operators and the “contingency plan” was already in action.
"We have given some 10-12 unused of Jet Airways slots at Delhi airport to other carriers… some 80 unused slots of Jet Airways in six metros have also been offered to other airlines for a temporary period. This happened almost 10 days back. It is an ongoing process," a top executive involved in the slot allocation process told CNBC-TV18 on April 3.
Twenty-one days later, almost 450 slots at Delhi and Mumbai are on the table and airlines are leaving no stone unturned to grab as many of these as possible by expediting expansion plans to get priority in the slot allocation process. Here are the five points you must know about this.
1. Slots are being allocated by a committee comprising officials from regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Airports Authority of India (AAI) and private airport operators. The committee is expected to meet twice a month to allocate new slots on an ad-hoc basis.
2. Airlines are required to submit a plan on aircraft induction, crew availability at least three working days ahead of these bi-monthly meetings.
3. Priority, however, will be given to those airlines which are adding capacity or aircraft, serving virgin and underserved routes, withdrawing aircraft from adequately served routes, and proposed a date of commencement of operations will also be considered before allotting slots.
4. As reported by CNBC-TV18, earlier, slots will be allocated till July or for a period of three months starting May 1. This arrangement can be extended, but only on a monthly basis, until end of Summer 2019 season or October 26.
5. No historic rights or seasonal continuity rights can be claimed by the airlines or in other words, airlines must keep in mind that this transfer is for an interim period, for now, and slots can be withdrawn with 30-day prior notice post-July. In any case, slots have to be operationalised within seven days of proposed commencement date else those will be withdrawn and as a penalty, that airline will get the lowest priority for future allocation.
Now, let us address the elephant in the room. What is there in it for passengers? Well, the arrangement is beneficial for passengers only if other domestic carriers deploy capacity on routes vacated by Jet Airways, especially those connecting tier-2, and tier-3 towns and in that context, the clause of “virgin and underserved routes” for priority comes under scanner. A domestic carrier may use slots at Delhi and Mumbai to build on its already set-up network by claiming to be an "virgin and underserved route operator” but that does not necessarily alleviate the distress of passengers hit by Jet Airways suspension.
"Crisis of Jet Airways and suspension of flights has caused inconvenience to many air passengers. Ministry is seized of this matter. To reduce the inconvenience of passengers and facilitate induction of additional capacity, it has been decided to allocate some of the slots vacated by Jet Airways to other airlines on a purely temporary basis, for a period of three months," the civil aviation ministry had said in a statement on April 23.
First Published: IST