Government yet to clear bills of airlines involved in Operation Ganga rescue flights

Nearly three months after the conclusion of Operation Ganga for the evacuation of Indians from Ukraine, the government is yet to clear the bills sent by the country’s six major airlines, which deployed 76 flights for it between February and March.

Officials aware of the pending payments said that the process for clearing the disbursal is still underway. Given the large amounts under consideration, an official said that the matter would be resolved in a matter of time, indicating that only a few months had elapsed since the completion of Operation Ganga.

The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on the matter. The Ministry of Civil Aviation, which brought the various airlines onboard despite their initial reluctance to participate in the exercise, received the bills and vetted them before sending them to the MEA for clearance.

Six Indian carriers flew a total of 76 flights to Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland as Ukraine’s airspace was shut.

The bills submitted were “technically examined” to ensure there was no overcharging. Various parameters such as fuel cost, lay over, crew deployment, wide and narrow-body aeroplane, and seat configuration were analysed, a senior official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation said.

“While most bills were within 10% range of each other, there were one or two airlines where there were slight variations and this was then taken up with them,” the official said.

Though Indians had started returning in large numbers weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, flights chartered by the Indian government and operated by domestic airlines started after the war broke out.

Over 22,000 Indians returned from Ukraine between February 1 and March 11

The operation continued till March 11. Six Indian carriers flew a total of 76 flights to Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland as Ukraine’s airspace was shut. These included IndiGo (35), Air India (14), Air India Express (9), SpiceJet (9), GoFirst (6), and Air Asia (3).

Although Vistara offered to participate, its services were not utilised for the operation. The Indian Air Force, too, operated 14 flights. Over 22,000 Indians returned from Ukraine between February 1 and March 11, according to the government.

The cost of chartering flights was not taken up with airlines before roping them in for the evacuation. The official said that this was because the process was carried out under “an emergency” and “for the nation”.

The Indian Air Force, too, operated 14 flights

Later, the airlines were “sensitised” on how they should proceed with billing. Some airlines said that they have received payments from State governments, which had chartered their aeroplanes to fly students from cities like Mumbai and Delhi after their return from Ukraine.

This was the first air evacuation undertaken by the Indian government after the privatisation of Air India, which was routinely pressed into such activities whether overseas or domestically.

Air India was formally handed over to Tata Sons on January 27. But there is no discussion yet on whether there is a need to develop a systematic procedure for hiring airlines for future evacuations, officials in the Ministry of Civil Aviation and sources in the airlines say.

IndiGo, which has deep pockets, says that its operations are “not bound by revenue from ticket sales”

A senior GoFirst executive felt that the “standardisation” of such procedures may be detrimental to some airlines and could lead to “allegations” as aircraft type and the number of seats available differs from one airline to another. He felt that factors such as the “cost of pilots”, which can increase over some time, could make such an exercise challenge.

Though IndiGo, which has deep pockets, says that its operations are “not bound by revenue from ticket sales”, this is not true for airlines like SpiceJet with weak financials, whose flights were stopped by Delhi’s Air Traffic Controller for several hours last month over non-payment of dues to the Airports Authority of India.

ALSO READ – Multiple SpiceJet flights halted by Delhi ATC for non-payment of daily airport user fees to AAI

(With Inputs from The Hindu)

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