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U.S. Department of Transportation Issues Order Requiring Indian Air Carriers to Apply for Statements of Authorization Prior to Conducting Charter Flights

Monday, June 22, 2020

Short Statement:
The U.S. Department of Transportation issued an order today requiring Indian air carriers to apply to the Department for statements of authorization prior to conducting charter flights.  The Department is taking this action because the Government of India is engaging in unfair and discriminatory practices with respect to charter air transportation services to and from India.  This order will allow the Department to scrutinize charter flights by Indian carriers on a case-by-case basis.  The Department seeks to restore a level playing field for U.S. airlines, as provided for in the U.S.-India Air Transport Agreement.  The Department is willing to reconsider this action once all applicable restrictions on U.S. carrier rights cease to be applied to U.S. carriers, and a level playing field has been restored. 
The U.S.-India Air Transport Agreement (“the Agreement”) provides the right for U.S. air carriers to provide scheduled and charter air transportation between the United States and India.  However, in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Government of India (GoI) has completely banned all scheduled services, and has also failed to approve U.S. carriers for charter operations.  At the same time, Air India is operating what it calls “repatriation” charter flights between India and the United States in both directions since May 7, 2020.  Air India is advertising flights that would constitute a rate of 53% of the scheduled services it operated before the onset of the current public health emergency.  Considering this rate of flying, and that Air India is selling tickets on the market, the charters go beyond true repatriations, and it appears that Air India may be using repatriation charters as a way of circumventing the GoI-imposed prohibition of scheduled services.  
This situation, in which Indian airlines are permitted to perform services pursuant to their rights under the Agreement while U.S. carriers are not, creates a competitive disadvantage for U.S. carriers.  Accordingly, the Department has determined that this situation calls for close scrutiny, on a case-by-case basis, of Air India passenger charter operations until this issue has been resolved.  The goal in taking this action is to restore a level playing field for U.S. airlines.  The Department will be in a position to reconsider this action once all applicable restrictions that abridge U.S. carrier rights cease to be applied to U.S. carriers, and when we feel confident that a level playing field has been restored.