Indian tribunal rules out cartelisation among foreign airlines

IN A SETBACK to Indian travel consultants fighting foreign airlines’ zero commission regime, the Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT) has maintained a February 2011 decision by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) that there was no evidence of cartelisation among the carriers.

In its December 7 ruling, the tribunal said that the airlines in question – Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Air France, Air Canada, Swiss International Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Singapore Airlines – cannot be viewed as a group or enterprise. The tribunal also noted that none of these airlines individually held a dominant position in the market.

Rajji Rai, advisory board member of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) and chairman of the Swift Group, said: “We are all disappointed with the decision. The tribunal seems to have given concession to the airlines.

“All the airlines started the zero commission regime around the same time and used exactly the same reasons for doing so. This amounts to nothing but cartelisation.”

He added that he would suggest bringing the matter to the Indian Supreme Court when TAAI’s managing committee meets in Indonesia tomorrow.

The appeal was filed by TAAI, which had approached CCI in December 2009 after the nine airlines announced an end to the commission structure for travel consultants. In its petition, TAAI alleged the decision was anti-competitive and a move of cartelisation.

The airlines maintained that their decision had been independent and there was no cartelisation involved.

Other associations have also lamented that the ruling was a “setback”.

“I think neither COMPAT nor CCI understood the reasons behind travel (consultants’ move to) challenge the decision of airlines to follow a zero commission regime. It is a matter of survival for us,” said Biji Eapen, national president, IATA Agents Association of India.

“I think it is high time all the travel (consultants) come together and take up our cause. The solution to this issue lies in our unity,” he added.

Subhash Verma, president, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India, said: “The decision by COMPAT is unfair and one-sided. CCI has never done a study in detail to evaluate the crux of this issue.”

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