Delta Air Lines (DL, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson) has petitioned the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to deny SpiceJet (SG, Delhi Int'l) r exemption authority and a foreign air carrier permit until the Indian authorities allow Delta to codeshare on more flights to the country.

"Delta objects on the basis of a lack of reciprocity afforded by the Government of India and urges the Department to delay granting approval of the requested authority until such time as the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation approves certain pending codesharing requests by Delta, consistent with the open skies US-India Air Transportation Agreement," the American carrier said.

Delta claimed the Indian government had ordered it to suspend codesharing on Air France-KLM services to India effective July 2020. While in November, "after significant engagement by Delta and the Department", the authorities reauthorised codesharing on Air France-operated flights, Delta remains banned from doing so on services flown by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KL, Amsterdam Schiphol).

However, SpiceJet replied that while it understood Delta's grievances, they were insufficient to halt the Indian LCC's own plans.

"SpiceJet is empathetic to Delta’s stated frustration with the process it has faced. Indeed, SpiceJet has placed an inquiry with the Ministry and Directorate General as to the status of Delta’s request with KLM, as was clearly desired by Delta through its objection in the instant proceeding... Delta’s attempt to use the SpiceJet Application as a means to address its unrelated concerns about its request to codeshare with KLM, while understandable, is misdirected," the airline said.

SpiceJet underlined that Delta's woes relate to codeshared operations and not to the carrier's own traffic rights to India. Indeed, Delta launched a direct New York JFK-Mumbai Int'l route in December 2019. Flights have been suspended since mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to this imbalance, the airline pointed out that delaying its application would do it disproportionately more harm than the delays Delta has suffered.

"As noted in its application, SpiceJet will likely be requesting wet-lease approval as well, which will afford the Department the opportunity to evaluate rights more similar to those at issue with Delta and KLM," the airline said.

SpiceJet hopes to target the passenger repatriation and cargo sectors with in-house B737 services from New York JFK to Delhi Int'l, set to launch as soon as possible. The airline indicated that it could also wet-lease aircraft, particularly in the initial operations phase, until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.