NEW DELHI: CBI, which is looking for possible irregularities in relaxation of rules for Indian airlines to operate international flights, will examine processes followed on the matter during current and previous governments.
The rule that required airlines to have at least 20 aircraft and complete five years of local operations to fly aboard was relaxed in the current government’s tenure and under a new civil aviation policy framework, but a move towards that was initiated also during the previous Congress-led rule.
The investigating agency has sought documents that were moved during both regimes.
“Ministries (including civil aviation ministry) have been asked to share all documents related to attempts to relax the 5/20 norm in the earlier government and the process followed to relax the norms in the current government,” said a senior government official, who did not want to be named. CBI is probing allegations that AirAsia Berhad used illegal tactics to lobby Indian officials to get the 5/20 rule relaxed.
An easier rule would have allowed the airline’s Indian joint venture unit to operate international flights earlier than otherwise possible.
The official said CBI had sought documents also on procedure followed to grant the flying licence to AirAsia India under the foreign direct investment (FDI) rules and the FDI approval given by the now-dismantled Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB).
The abolition of 5/20 by the current government was taken up as part of a new civil aviation policy. The rule was relaxed to 0/20 — it dropped the clause on five years of local operations, but kept that on 20 aircraft — in June 2016 through a cabinet decision. CBI has sought details of all of that too. Ashok Gajapathi Raju was aviation minister when the 5/20 decision was taken.
The foreign flying eligibility rule had divided the industry into two.
While the older airlines were airlines were seeking its continuation, AirAsia India and Vistara were in favour of its abolition.
“All airlines were heard out and a solution to remove five years was taken but the clause to have 20 aircraft was kept to ensure that new airlines do not skip their responsibility in providing domestic connectivity” said an aviation ministry official, who also did not want to be named.