New Delhi: AirAsia top brass and Ratan Tata, their advisor, Tuesday met several ministers here in an effort to speed up clearances for their proposed low-cost airline venture, saying they aimed to launch it by October.
Besides Tata, who is the Advisor to AirAsia India, AirAsia Group chief Tony Fernandes and AirAsia India's newly appointed CEO Mittu Chandilya held separate meetings with Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh and Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma through the day.
The series of meetings came over three months after AirAsia got the FIPB nod to establish the joint venture for the proposed airline. The company is a 49:30:21 joint venture partnership between Malaysian carrier AirAsia, the Tata Group and Arun Bhatia of Telestra TradePlace.
As per procedures, the joint venture has applied for a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from Civil Aviation Ministry and submitted documents, including names of the new airline's Board, its CEO and other top officers, which were now being scrutinised for security clearance by the Home Ministry.
"They came here for security clearance for Air Asia. We will examine (their application) and take a call as soon as possible," Shinde told reporters after his meeting.
Fernandes briefed all the ministers about the new appointments and other developments in the proposed airline, with the Civil Aviation Minister saying that his ministry would give NOC as soon as the Home Ministry clears the names.
"They are working on that. When they get security clearance, they will apply to the DGCA (for flying permit). I don't expect that it will take too long," Ajit Singh said.
Exuding confidence that Civil Aviation Ministry's NOC "isn't far away", the AirAsia chief said, "Once we get that, the Scheduled Operator's Permit (flying licence) application moves fairly forward and we have to just submit it. I keep repeating that in October I hope that would be the time we would like to start."
Even as the AirAsia brass continued their meetings with government leaders, Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy came out with a statement alleging that the new airline proposal was approved "in violation of all norms, rules, regulations and policy governing civil aviation sector, FDI rules and the national security imperatives".
Claiming that clearances were granted to the proposal in "reckless disregard of laws and appears to be motivated by corrupt considerations", Swamy threatened to move the Supreme Court seeking cancellation of FIPB clearance if corrective steps were not taken by July 15.
To questions on high air fares in India, the AirAsia chief said, "We think we will be able to reduce fares by increasing volumes, creating an economic stimulus and creating more jobs" despite the high cost of jet fuel.
While the headquarters of the airline would be based in Chennai, the operational bases could be at Chennai, Bangalore or Kochi, Fernandes said.
"Almost 50 percent of the air travel market is between Delhi and Mumbai. We will try to rebalance that so that India has a more equal distribution of air traffic," he said, adding, "We have a much better understanding of the market in the south."
Later, Fernandes also tweeted: "Excellent meeting with Minister of Aviation Mr Ajit Singh. He is very very keen to increase connectivity. Aviation is for the common man."
Asked whether AirAsia would consider raising their stake in AirAsia India with the government considering hiking FDI limit in aviation to 74 percent, he said, "I heard something about it in last few days, it is not something that we are considering at the moment. We are just waiting to get our NOC which looks imminent."
Earlier, Tata said, "This is a different type of enterprise which Fernandes is bringing. Hopefully, it will spread air travel across India and give a new dimension (to the aviation sector). The Tata Group is pleased to be associated with it."