US asks Indian air carriers to seek prior authorisation for charter flights

The US has asked Indian air carriers to apply for statements of authorisation prior to conducting charter flights, alleging that the Indian government is engaged in "unfair and discriminatory" practices with respect to air transportation services between India and America. The Department of Transportation (DOT) said on Monday that it was taking this action to restore a level playing field for US airlines. It said it "is taking this action because the Indian government is engaging in unfair and discriminatory practices with respect to charter air transportation services to and from India," said an official statement after the DOT issued an order requiring Indian air carriers to apply to the Department for statements of authorisation prior to conducting charter flights.

Noting that this order will allow the DOT to scrutinise charter flights by Indian carriers on a case-by-case basis, the statement asserted that it seeks to restore a level playing field for US airlines, as provided for in the US-India Air Transport Agreement. The Department is willing to reconsider this action once all applicable restrictions on US carrier rights cease to be applied to US carriers, and a level playing field has been restored, it said. The US-India Air Transport Agreement provides the right for US air carriers to provide scheduled and charter air transportation between the two countries.

However, in response to the Covid-19 public health emergency, India has completely banned all scheduled services, and has also failed to approve US carriers for charter operations, it alleged. At the same time, Air India is operating what it calls "repatriation" charter flights between India and the United States in both directions since May 7, 2020. Air India is advertising flights that would constitute a rate of 53 per cent of the scheduled services it operated before the onset of the current public health emergency, the DOT alleged.

"Considering this rate of flying, and that Air India is selling tickets on the market, the charters go beyond true repatriations, and it appears that Air India may be using repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the GoI-imposed prohibition of scheduled services," it said. This situation, in which Indian airlines are permitted to perform services pursuant to their rights under the Agreement while US carriers are not, creates a competitive disadvantage for US carriers, the statement said. This situation calls for close scrutiny, on a case-by-case basis, of Air India passenger charter operations until this issue has been resolved, it said.

The Department will be in a position to reconsider this action once all applicable restrictions that abridge US carrier rights cease to be applied to US carriers, and when we feel confident that a level playing field has been restored, it said.

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