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General Aviation still the unwanted

New Delhi. The industry was talking to itself. There were no decision makers to listen to its problems and requirements. Isn’t it time for senior officials sitting in the Ministry of Aviation, DGCA and Airports Authority of India to make an effort to listen to their important stakeholder- the general aviation industry.

As the sessions progressed, post the inaugural session, which was addressed by the minister, the government was conspicuous by its absence in the debates to discuss the situation of General Aviation (GA) in India at a seminar organised by Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) and US-India Aviation Cooperation Programme.

With five Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) , airspace surrounded by 12 countries and a total of 244 ATS routes, up-gradation and expansion/addition of airports, civil aviation is expanding in a big way all over India. But the focus is on commercial aviation, scheduled airlines and putting tier 2 and 3 cities on the Indian aviation map. General Aviation is experiencing a lot of constraints. There are no exclusive guidelines, nor decisions being taken for it.

Minister of Civil Aviation Ajit Singh, speaking of policy changes to be made and a time frame to ease out regulatory issues, stated that India has the potential to become a major ‘Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) hub. The government, he said, has recently decided to give several concessions to promote this activity in India.

The inhibitors in the growth of GA are mainly lacking separate infrastructure, manpower as well as several procedural issues related to government control. There is no concept of Fixed Base Operator (FBO), Helicopters or GA terminals in the country. Numbers of agencies for ground handling are extremely restricted. There is no separate parking for GA aircraft and helicopters which operate out of airports. Clearly, more focus is required than what Government of India and DGCA are now putting on the GA sector.

Arun Mishra, Director General, DGCA, said that there is primary synergy between India and the US. “We are new kids on the block and need support. Safety is my primary concern. Regulation of safety in business aviation is very important.” He admitted that there is shortage of staff at DGCA but said that the process for filling the vacancies has begun.

As far as GA’s potential is concerned, the demand for business jets in the country is expected to go up by more than 10 per cent a year in the next decade. In India, business aircrafts have continuously evolved to meet the increasing market demands for speed and comfort by a number of high net-worth individuals. No doubt the business jets market will increase and jet manufacturers will be intensifying their efforts to sell more aircraft in the country.

Dr Vivek Lall, the Chairman Aviation and Aerospace Committee and President and CEO, New Venture, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), optimised that the conference would act as a catalyst in formulating policies on general aviation and there is tremendous opportunity for the US and India to work together.

The need for setting up a Working Group to look at the aviation requirements was emphasised upon by CJ Collins, Senior Representative, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). She said that India is the least penetrated but has huge potential and stressed that the DGCA and industry partners should be members of the Working Group. There are several issues which the DGCA is looking at, she said, including trying for short notice flights, issues of general aviation flying into defence controlled airspace, etc.

DGCA needs 30 days time for clearance of a foreign registered aircraft to land in a defence airport with a civil enclave. This fact needs to be addressed. An international operator takes seven working days to get a permit to land in India. Multiple leg flight plans is again a major issue with GA operators. Landing and parking charges should be through a preloaded card or a credit card which the service provides. This will lead to easy payment rather than payment by cash or cheque.

The field of emergency medical services operated by helicopters is also emerging as a very important growth area. In terms of fixed wing business jets, statistical studies indicate that generally they are more cost effective than commercial services and hence there is the potential. But the same time there is an urgent need to increase safety awareness and compliance culture in GA.

Developing a process to allowing easier ramp side access for business aircraft pilots and support personnel and making guidelines or regulations for support of GA is the need of the hour. The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security has issues on security passes for pilots and engineers.

There is a rule in DGCA books, which states that business aircraft require temporary registration, just like a ferry flight permit, but again it needs clarity as to how GA purchases can use that, to make sure that it has been just purchased into the country. That’s one of the issues. (Highlighted portion not clear. Pl recheck) GA issues like importation approval processes and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) currency restrictions are under review by DGCA.

GA up till date has been largely operated in the shadow of scheduled commercial aviation. It is the scheduled commercial aviation that has been in the heads of people, in the government and as has been said in the beginning, the topic was about soaring GA versus infrastructure bottlenecks. With government support in the way of user friendly regulations, assistance with infrastructure and inclusiveness into the aviation market place, GA can flourish and make a vital contribution to the Indian economy. The Indian Business Aviation Operators Association (BAOA) is making a 50-item legislative wish list to the Aviation Minister. According to Rohit Kapur, President of India’s BAOA, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Agra and Goa will all need alternate airports for business aviation traffic. “We need more heliports and fixed-base operators in India for Business Aviation. GA parking bays are exhausted and this needs to be looked into in all major airports.” he added.

Surprisingly, India’s business aviation suffers from the perception that it is for the rich and the elite. Red tape in buying, importing and operating business aircraft, time-consuming customs and immigration procedures, and three months to get security clearance for qualified pilots, all prevent smooth operations, growth of the sector and creation of a revenue generating model. Is the government listening?

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