Global airlines' grouping IATA has pitched for a single and independent coordinator for allocation of slots at airports across India, as domestic carriers grapple with slot constraints.
With the government planning to revamp the existing slot allocation mechanism, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has emphasised the need for transparency in the process and ensure that slot availability is declared through NAC (Notice on Airport Capacity) charts for all airports.
The civil aviation ministry has sought views from various stakeholders, including airlines and airports, regarding the slot allocation process. In aviation parlance, slot refers to permission given to use airport infrastructure to arrive or depart on a specific date and time.
"Deviating from the WSG will make airlines operations in India more complicated than it should be and do more harm than good to the potential of Indian aviation and Vision 2040," he noted.
India is one of the fastest growing domestic aviation markets in the world and had recorded double-digit passenger traffic growth for more than four years continuously.
Regarding slot allocation, Ireland said there should be transparency and that the ministry should mandate declaring of available capacity through the NAC charts for all airports.
"Secondly, there should be a single, centralised and independent airport slot coordinator for India.
"From a single slot-coordinator a decade back, we now have separate slot coordinators for each of the private airports. This leads to a multiplicity of coordinators, different practices and interpretation of standards around slots in India," he told PTI.
He also said that an artificial cap on slots at an airport brings uncertainty to an airline's future growth plans. Such a move might result in less competition, less connectivity and hurt the hub potential of the airport, he added.
On whether auctioning of slots would work, Ireland replied in the negative.
"The sale of slots is not supported. This leads to uncertainty in an airline's operations, which negatively impacts the ability of both airports and airlines to invest in future services and infrastructure.
"It would harm established networks and future connectivity, will compromise competition and create perverse incentives to a process that is fair, neutral and non-discriminatory today," he said.
"It is important to note that the value associated with slot trading is the result of scarce airport capacity. In our experience, if there is availability at an airport, airlines will choose the time-available, rather than pay for slots," he added.
Currently, a slot allocation committee finalises the slots. Prior to 2007, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) was allocating the slots at airports.
Ireland also said that trying to reallocate slots midway through a season would probably be too late to enable airlines to publish services and for airports to resource according to expected demand.
"Slot changes, slot swaps, slot transfers and reallocations between airlines are already taking place as the planning process and season develops following the allocation of the slots. It is an ongoing process slot coordinators, airlines and airports are familiar with," he added.
A spokesperson for Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) said it does not believe it was necessary to have a single slot coordinator.
Under the concession agreement between the ministry and BIAL, the airport operator would have the final right to allocate slots.
"This slot allocation model has been active for the last 10 years in an environment characterised by PPP (Public Private Partnerships) in airports, with BIAL as a slot coordinator in collaboration with AAI, which is the entity responsible for airspace capacity," the spokesperson told PTI.
Further, she said that the BIAL has been an effective coordinator of slots due to the knowledge of key elements of demand and capacity profiling as well as an understanding of how to maintain service level standards in light of competing challenges for limited capacity.
"We, therefore, do not believe that it is necessary to have a single slot coordinator," she said.