Draft Policy 2015: GA & BA Perspective

While addressing some major issues on different areas of the industry, the draft policy does fall short on some key aspects, which need to be addressed before the final policy is made effective.

The Draft NCAP 2015, released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, is a step in the right direction to create an enabling environment for the growth of the industry. While addressing some major issues on different areas of the industry, the draft policy does fall short on some key aspects, which need to be addressed before the final policy is made effective.

One of the key shortfalls of the NCAP is that is does not address the concerns of the General and Business Aviation (GA & BA) Industry effectively. In fact, there is only a superficial reference about the industry. One of the probable reasons for this could be that the government still views the GA & BA industry as an elitist industry, not serving the masses of the country, except when operating for remote and regional connectivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. GA & BA is an enabler, which allows Indian industry leaders the flexibility to travel to remote and poorly connected regions of the country, and allows them to establish key industrial projects in such areas, thereby adding to the overall economic growth and development of the area. The economic benefits of opening up remote areas to industrial development cannot be overemphasised, and this would not be possible if the Captains of the Indian industry were not facilitated to travel to these areas without waste of time and in a secure environment. The GA & BA aircraft provide this flexibility to them. It is also prudent to put on record that the number of aircraft and helicopters that are operating under the GA & BA permit are twice the size of the commercial scheduled airlines, hence it would not be wise to ignore the just requirements of this industry.

The issue of import duties on import of GA & BA aircraft has been ignored and needs to be addressed on priority. While we understand this needs the blessing of the Ministry of Finance, it is essential the policy addresses this concern. Facts and figures are available to show that the growth of the GA & BA industry has been adversely affected ever since these duties have been imposed in 2007. Regretfully, the government has also not been able to add to its revenue with these duties, as it had hoped to do. This needs to be corrected on priority.

Besides this, the Draft NCAP falls short about addressing the issues of the infrastructure requirements for GA & BA. The present airports, both AAI and privately operated, have not planned for the operations of these aircraft and hence there is always an area of conflict between the two. The policy needs to clearly spell out the infrastructure requirement of this industry as something that needs to be included in the master plans of airport development. The NCAP, very sketchily, speaks about creating four hubs for development of helicopter operations in the country. The rationale for this is not understood. Why only four? Helicopter hubs need to be created in every state of the country, and in states with poor road connectivity, such as Arunachal and Himachal Pradesh, you probably need to plan for more than one hub. Similarly, where required, special airports for GA & BA needs to be planned, which should also house the requirements for affiliated support services such as MROs etc. as is done in other parts of the world.

Another key area which the NCAP should look at and address is the modernisation of key regulators, such as DGCA and BCAS. It is disheartening to see, that in this age, the DGCA and other agencies still continue to work on the archaic systems of pushing files from desk to desk, with all the regular ills of this system and manipulations still in place. The NCAP must address, with timelines, as to how it aims to modernise these institutions with new technology and e-governance, and bring the human factor down to the minimum. Clearances need to be filed and obtained online with the tap of key, whether it be for licence renewals or flight clearances. It is unbelievable that today, a company or person who wants to buy and operate an aircraft, needs a lead time of one-and-a-half years, from the time he decides that he wants to go ahead, till the time he actually starts flying in one. He needs to deal with 10 different agencies before such permissions are given. In the modern jargon of 'ease of doing business in India,' the aviation industry seems to be left far behind. The NCAP needs to correct this.

In the skilling section, the NCAP needs to also address as to how they aim to make these organisations more professional and responsive. The attitudes of 'big brother' approach needs to go, and these organisations needs to work in a collaborative manner with the industry to encourage healthy practices. Lastly, best global practices need to be adopted, rather than the constant effort to trying to 'reinvent the wheel' and retaining centralised control on all aspects of operations and maintenance.

The Policy does address the setting up of Scheduled Commuter Airlines, and remote and regional connectivity quite effectively. Just a word of caution; one size does not fit all. In trying to define the fare for such connectivity at Rs. 2,500 per hour, the policy is tying itself down, and not allowing flexibility. It is quite likely that certain parts of the country may be economically affluent, and require a connectivity, rather than subsidies. These could be holiday resorts, industrially rich towns, etc. which can afford to pay higher fares, but do need the connectivity. Why should the government allow them subsidies, which can probably be utilised better in other areas?

To conclude, the Draft NCAP is good start, but still needs a lot of work if it truly has to create an enabling environment for the growth of this industry. Ministry needs to study these issues carefully, and address them before finalising it. And lastly, and importantly, we would request the NCAP to lay down a timeline by which the Aircraft Rules of 1937 can be rewritten and adapted to 2015 as part of the policy. The time for that has come.

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