New Delhi: Decks have been cleared for Airbus A-380s to operate from Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore with the Government on Monday lifting its five-year-old ban, a decision that may soon see airlines like Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Lufthansa flying them from these airports.
The restriction, which was lifted by Civil Aviation Ministry after several years of demands by these major foreign carriers, was imposed in 2008 as the government then felt these double-decker, wide-body and long-haul jets would help foreign airlines to take away a large chunk of global traffic which could be detrimental to the Indian carriers' interests.
The A-380s would now be allowed to airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore, which are currently equipped to handle them and have the required infrastructure.
All these airports would have to get DGCA certification and make adequate preparation in terms of various services required to handle the large number of passengers these planes can accommodate when they land or take off.
The decision was immediately welcomed by aircraft manufacturer Airbus, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), Singapore Airlines and Emirates. The foreign airlines have been pressing the government on the issue since 2008-09.
Nine of the 10 international airlines that fly the A-380s have scheduled flights into India. There are over 110 A-380s currently flying worldwide.
Several round of meetings were held between officials of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Air India and Airports Authority of India and others in the Ministry on these issues before the decision was taken.
An A-380 can seat 850 passengers in an all-economy configuration, but those having a three-class configuration can accommodate between 550-600 passengers.
The operations of the A-380s would be subject to overall traffic entitlements within the bilateral Air Service Agreements (ASAs) with different countries, an official spokesperson said.
The Ministry also decided that wherever the entitlements were not expressed in terms of seats per week, these would be rationalised and converted into seats per week before allowing A-380 operations to India from these countries.
The ASAs, which specifically prohibit A-380 operations to India, would be amended before the operations of these airplanes from any country are allowed.
Industry sources said the decision to allow A-380s from Delhi, which is the hub of Air India, could clash with the national carrier's global plans with its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Kingfisher Airlines was the only Indian airline to have ordered five A-380s but Airbus cancelled it last year, soon after the debt-laden carrier was grounded.
Airbus Executive Vice President Kiran Rao welcomed the decision saying, "this is good news for Indian airports and the Indian flying public. ... For the Indian flying public, the A-380 offers the world's most comfortable flying experience."
He claimed the A-380 was the "world's most fuel efficient aircraft in service with the lowest operating costs per seat and the highest revenue generating potential which benefits the airlines and the travelling public."
Larger aircraft like the A-380 combined with higher load factors "make the most efficient use of limited airport slots and contribute to rising passenger numbers without additional flights to capture this growth," Rao said, referring to its operations in London's Heathrow Airport.
David Lau, Singapore Airlines' General Manager (India), said the clearance to A-380s was "favourable news to the Indian aviation industry. SIA will evaluate the commercial viability of this recent development based on available traffic rights and resources."
An Emirates spokesperson welcomed the move saying "any decision to deploy an A380 on our network is dependent on passenger demand on that particular route as well as the ability of airports to handle the aircraft."
"We will be reviewing our existing operations, and look forward to serving Indian travellers with our flagship aircraft in the near future," he said.
Lufthansa sources here said they would examine the change in policy to see what opportunities it provides, but the German airline had no immediate plan to fly the A-380s here.
A DIAL spokesperson, while welcoming the move, said IGIA was among a few Indian airports equipped to handle A-380 operations "backed by our state of the art infrastructure, both in the terms of passenger terminal facilities and aircraft operations airside facilities."
Consultancy firm KPMG Aerospace and Defence Head Amber Dubey said this was in line with the "spate of pro-business reforms" announced by the Ministry.
"The A380s will help bring down fares and improve the cost competitiveness of the Indian tourism sector. They will improve the efficiency and capacity utilization at Indian airports," Dubey said.
Issues like clogging of airport facilities like baggage handling and speedy immigration and clearance for over 500 passengers when these wide-body and twin-aisled long-haul jets land or take-off were analysed and decisions to overcome them were taken by a group of officials, led by then Civil Aviation Secretary K N Srivastava, in December last year.
The crowding at immigration, baggage clearance and customs could lead to clogging of the existing facilities which could make it difficult to handle the passengers disembarking from other flights at the same time.
Official sources said the thinking was to allow the landings of these aircraft at a time when there are lesser number of flights operating from an airport. The time slots at airports having large terminals and parking space would have to be decided to enable the super jumbos to land and park.
A review of this decision to end the ban came after the DGCA conducted a study which said A-380 operations would not adversely affect operations of Indian carriers.
The A-380s have already made debut flights to Delhi, Mumbai and at the airshows in Hyderabad. A few years ago, an A-380 had even made an emergency landing at Hyderabad on its way from Australia.
First Published: Monday, January 27, 2014, 16:10