15 June 2019: India can’t be a nanny state offering bailouts to airlines and real estate companies, said Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, who is in charge of Civil Aviation as well as the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministries.
On the challenge of restoring capacity on international routes vacated by the troubled Jet Airways, he outlined a two-pronged strategy — giving domestic airlines their due share and engaging with international carriers.
“You can’t run a private sector organisation, goof it up and then go to the government to say ‘bail me out’. That’s not doable. Because if we were to go down that road, we would have airlines, builders, infrastructure, everybody coming and, so, you would have a nanny state,” Mr. Puri said at a CII event on Friday.
“Now, if the nanny state had a lot of money, then maybe it would want to; if I had anything to do with it, I wouldn’t give a cent,” he added.
He said the government could help entities restructure and provide them an environment to grow.
The biggest challenge before Mr Puri in his capacity as the Minister of State for Civil Aviation is to see a resolution to the uncertainty staring Jet Airways. An SBI-led consortium of lenders is currently in talks with potential investors to revive the airline that owes more than ₹8,000 crore to these banks.
Regarding more flights on routes operated by Jet Airways, the Minister said, “We are addressing that issue. We are very confident we can solve that problem also, both in terms of domestic capacity and providing opportunities to domestic carriers and other actions we can take.”
While the Minister did not elaborate on the “other actions”, his statement is seen as an indication that he is likely to encourage international airlines to deploy planes on some of Jet Airways routes, which include destinations like Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, London and Paris.
Meets UAE envoy:
Mr. Puri’s comments came on a day when he met the Ambassador of UAE, Dr. Ahmed Al Banna, and Emirates Airlines’ vice-president for India and Nepal Essa Sulaiman Ahmad.
The UAE administration and Qatar Airways are among those who have written to the Ministry of Civil Aviation requesting for seats to India — over and above those permitted under bilateral agreements — to fill the gap left by Jet Airways. The airline had the largest market share on international routes among Indian carriers.
For domestic players:
The Minister also made it amply clear that he was mindful of the concerns domestic players have over enhanced engagement with international players.
“There are many mistakes in the past, we have to correct those. We have to provide domestic carriers a level playing field. We have to ensure that we reclaim much of the lost space.”
The Minister’s remarks come even as the Enforcement Directorate is probing former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel for allegedly approving routes to Gulf-carriers like Emirates, Qatar, and Air Arabia by making Air India give up its profitable routes and slots.
On the domestic front though, Mr. Puri argued that there is no capacity deficit as the collective fleet size of various airlines today stands at 580, which is higher than their strength of 540 when Jet Airways was operating.