‘With 5/20 rule gone, Air Kerala can now take off’

Thiruvananthapuram, June 16 (IANS) A Kerala government project to provide cheap air connectivity between the state and the Middle East can now take off with the scrapping of the “5/20 rule,” said aviation entrepreneur K.J. Samuel.

“Yes, with the new rules, if the Kerala government can plan well and judiciously use the funds at their disposal, in a very short time, the long standing dream can become a reality,” Samuel told IANS.

Announcing its new civil aviation policy, the central government on Wednesday scrapped the “5/20 rule” whereby only local airlines having at least five years of operational experience and a fleet of minimum 20 aircraft are allowed to fly overseas.

The “5/20 rule” has been the biggest obstacle to the state government’s plan to start Air Kerala airline which has already been incorporated but has not been able to start operations.

The main purpose of Air Kerala, registered as a subsidiary of the Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL), will be to operate international flights, mainly to and from the Middle East where more than 2.5 million people from the state live and work.

Samuel, who founded Air Deccan way back in 2003 along with G.R. Gopinath and Vishnu Raval, said there is nothing now that stops the state government from implementing the plan.

“I presume that an initial capital of Rs 350 crore would be required for starting the airline,” Samuel said.

He said the idea of Air Deccan was floated in February 2003 and by August “we were already flying”.

“We started with Rs 20 crore and took on lease six ATR aircraft,” he recalled.

Air Kerala is particularly meant to provide relief to those Keralites in the Middle East who need an inexpensive air link with India and feel they are being fleeced by the existing airlines.

The state government in its last budget in February this year had earmarked Rs 10 crore for the Air Kerala project.

A top state government official who did not wish to be identified told IANS that over the years it was the 5/20 norm that stood as the obstacle to the project, while funds were never a problem.

“Leading Middle East-based Keralite business persons had expressed their desire to join this venture and had promised the required capital by subscribing to around five lakh shares, each valued at Rs 20,000,” the official said.



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