Akasa Air (QP, Mumbai International) has secured authorisation to fly abroad, with India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation on September 20 designating it as an International Scheduled Operator, the budget carrier confirmed in a statement.

Chief executive Vinay Dube said that the new designation “enables us to take one step closer” to launching international operations before the end of this year. He added: “We are now working with all relevant authorities on our request for traffic rights and will soon be able to announce the international destinations we will fly to. We are targeting destinations within the range of a 737 MAX from India in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.”

He reiterated that Akasa Air is also preparing to announce “a three-digit aircraft order” by the end of the year “to serve the growing travel demand” in India. The carrier had already referred to such an order earlier this year alongside some specific examples of where it hopes to fly to internationally.

Akasa took delivery of its 20th aircraft, B737-8-200 VT-YAV (msn 63870), on August 1, becoming the first airline in Asia to add the 8-200 variant of the Boeing MAX to its fleet. Dube told ch-aviation in an interview at the time that it aimed to start international flights by the end of 2023. The fleet currently consists of nineteen B737-8s and one 8-200. Indian regulations require carriers to have at least 20 aircraft before venturing abroad. It also has 52 more of the -200s and four more of the original -8 model on order.

The news has been marred, however, by Akasa Air being forced to temporarily cut some of its frequencies - around 630 of them in August and possibly 700 more in September - after a number of its pilots quit abruptly without completing a six-month notice period. The company has initiated legal action against the pilots to claim compensation for the lost flights and stop them from working for competitors in breach of their contracts. Some have reportedly joined Air India Express (IX, Delhi International).

The airline’s counsel told a Delhi court that Akasa was in “crisis” and may have shut down because of the resignations, a source with knowledge of the hearings told Reuters. Dube reassured staff in an email that “these are only short-term constraints” and the airline has “strong finances” to see it through.