U.S. DOT contests Indian limits on FedEx ground handling, enacts reporting requirements on Air India

Last week, in reaction to India’s prohibition on U.S. carriers performing their own ground handling at Indian airports, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) issued two orders imposing reporting requirements on all Indian carriers operating their own aircraft at U.S. airports. The new orders could have immediate impacts on the handling operations of Air India and FedEx, and potentially other Indian and U.S. carriers in the future. 

Under the first order, the DOT: 

  • Requires any Indian airline serving the U.S.-India market with its own aircraft to report all its arrangements for ground handling at each U.S. airport that it serves, including relevant contracts, functions covered and other similar details. This report is required to be filed by July 1, 2019; and 
  • Temporarily suspends the right of any Indian carrier operating aircraft at U.S. airports to perform its own ground handling functions, until further order. 

The DOT issued a second order concurrently, requiring Indian carriers to file information related to their operations and equipment used at U.S. airports, so it may determine whether the operation of the services contained in those schedules, or any part thereof, “may be contrary to applicable law or adversely affect the public interest.” 

Currently, Air India is the only Indian carrier providing scheduled combination services in the U.S. market with its own aircraft that will be affected by these orders. Jet Airways holds authority to provide U.S.-India scheduled combination services, and has done so via codesharing, but recently announced that it is temporarily suspending all operations.  

The DOT also said that it is aware Air India does not, at present, exercise its rights to self-handle at U.S. airports, but still deems it relevant to understand what arrangements for ground handling the carrier has at U.S. airports. 

Air India currently operates at New York (JFK), Newark (EWR)Chicago (ORD), Washington D.C. (IAD) and San Francisco (SFO). The carrier flies SFO-Dehli (DEL) five times weekly, JFK-DEL seven times weekly, JFK-Vienna (VIE) once weekly, EFW-Mumbai (BOMseven times weekly, IAD-DEL three times weekly, IAD- BOM once weekly and ORD-DEL six times weekly, according to data from FlightRadar24. 

The DOT said it is issuing these orders on the premise that the Indian government does not currently permit U.S. carriers to exercise their bilateral right to perform their own ground handling at Indian airports under an “Open Skies Agreement” between the countries.  

Since 2016, however, the Indian government has restricted U.S. carriers’ handling operations at Indian airports. In 2017, the Indian government required that FedEx contract with an Indian ground handling company in order to continue its operations. Since then, the DOT said that India has failed to resolve U.S. government concerns that these restrictions are inconsistent with the agreement between the two countries. FedEx is currently the only U.S. carrier intending to self-handle in India and is the only U.S. carrier directly affected by ground handling restrictions in India 

The DOT will serve these orders on Air India and Jet Airways at the Indian embassy in Washington D.C., the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The DOT directs all interested parties to show why the tentative decision set forth should not be final and will accept comments in response to these orders as outlined in the notice. 

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