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Airbus A380 steals the show in Paris

By Deepak Arora

LE BOURGET, PARIS, June 13: World's biggest air show at Le Bourget airport in Paris had people gasping with awe and disbelief when they saw the biggest aircraft, Airbus A380, making its debut flight display at the show. This year a record number of about 1,900 exhibitors from 44 countries are participating at the biennial 46th International Paris air show at Le Bourget airport north of Paris.

Besides the traditional rivals, Airbus and Boeing, some of the other aircraft making appearance include French company Dassault Aviation's Falcon 7X, a tri-jet, long-range business jet; the Brazilian Embraer 195, a 118-seat regional airliner; and US company Gulfstream's business jets G450 and G550.

Defence sector exhibits include Boeing's new tanker 767-300, the Italian training jet Aermacchi M346, Dassault's Mirage and Rafale fighter jets, and the Eurofighter fighter jet of the consortium of EADS, BAE Systems and Alenia of Italy.

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of India is also participating at the air show with its Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). Private airlines of India, Air Deccan and Kingfisher, are also expected to take the delivery of their new aircraft at the show. Air Deccan would take delivery of an ATR and Kingfisher is to take delivery of Airbus A320.

The A 380, the giant double-decker aircraft that can hold up to 840 passengers, that flew for the first time on April 27 was show's start at the inaugural ceremony on Monday which was led by French President Jacques Chirac. The A380 gave a new weapon to its European maker, Airbus' competition with US rival Boeing which is trying to catch up in orders after staying behind for the past five years.

In the duel, Boeing made one of the show's first announcements, saying that Irish low-cost airline Ryanair had converted options to buy five 737-800 aircraft to firm orders, bringing to 230 the number of firm orders by Ryanair for the single-aisle passenger planes.

Then Qatar Airways weighed in with a 60-plane intention to order for the future Airbus A350 aircraft. The Doha-based airline also said it intended to buy at least 20 Boeing 777s, and valued the Airbus order at 10.6 billion dollars (8.70 billion euros) and that for Boeing at 4.6 billion dollars.

The president of Qatar Airways, Akbar al Baker, said the airline had chosen the Airbus A350 in preference to Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner after deep analysis. A final decision to make "firm" orders was "imminent", he said, adding that negotiations were continuing.

The order for the long haul, medium capacity A350 would involve orders for both versions of the airliner, the A350-800 and the A350-900, for delivery between the middle of 2010 and 2015. The aircraft would be in addition to, and would eventually replace, the airline's A330 airliners. The order for Boeing would cover three versions of the B777, the 777-300 ER, the 777-200 F cargo plane, and the new 777-200 LR, the world's longest-range airliner and the latest in the Boeing fleet. These aircraft would be delivered between 2007 and 2010.

The announcement by Qatar Airways was welcome news for Airbus, which had just 10 orders since it unveiled the A350 project in December and recently postponed its decision to launch it, originally intended to be announced at the show, until September. Airbus said last week that it hoped to announce 100 orders at the air show for the A350, the defensive response to Boeing's new energy-efficient 787 Dreamliner.

Due to enter service in 2008, the 787 has won 266 orders and commitments from 21 airlines. Mike Bair, the vice president and general manager of the 787 Program, told a news conference that another 27 airlines were looking at the plane and some 420 orders were in the pipeline. He insisted the use of composite materials for half of the 787's structure gave Boeing a great price advantage by reducing building costs. "These composite structures are cheaper to build than aluminum," he said.

With the new orders, Boeing was now positioned to retake the lead in passenger airplane orders it lost five years ago. Airbus hopes to announce an order for the A380 at the show.

India, Canada liberalise air transport accord

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 13: The growing prowess of the Indian economy can be gauged from the fact that some of the leading countries of the world have been seeking more air traffic rights with India. Recently, New Delhi has signed such agreements with the US, the UK, Germany, France and Qatar. And now, India and Canada agreed to liberalise the existing bilateral air transport agreement to 35 round trip flights per week for each country. This translates into a five-fold increase in passenger flights between the two nations.

While the new agreement allows Canadian carriers to access Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad, the Indian carriers can access Edmonton, Vancouver and two other cities in Canada, in addition to Montreal and Toronto. The choice of the two cities has been left to India.

At present, Air India operates three flights a week between Delhi, Amritsar and Toronto via Birmingham, while Air Canada flies a daily service between Delhi and Toronto. Each country can designate as many air carriers it wishes for flights between Canada and India.

The Civil Aviation Secretary, Mr Ajay Prasad, and the Chief of Air Negotiator for Canada, Mr John Mcnab, signed the agreement earlier this month in Ottawa. The agreement also grants 'Fifth Freedom' rights to airlines from India between points in Canada and one intermediate point in Asia and three in Europe including UK. The right allows an airline to either pick up passengers en route or fly beyond the port of call in the second country.

Another highlight of the agreement is the unlimited capacity for all-cargo services.

On the new agreement, the Canada's International Trade Minister, Mr Jim Peterson, said "this will help facilitate and encourage our rapidly growing commercial and scientific ties with India. The extended air services will also spur tourism and cultural exchanges, which will benefit both countries."

The Canadian Transport Minister, Mr Jean-C. Lapierre said the arrangement would allow the airliners of both countries to better meet the needs of the travelling public, including the business community. It also reflected a shared commitment to improved air services.

Under the agreement, the airlines of both nations would be able to take advantage of the new code-share provisions under which an airline sells seats in its name on the flights of another airline.

As per the previous agreement, the number of air carriers that could serve the market was limited. The total capacity was restricted to approximately seven round trip flights per week for each country and confined Indian carriers' effective access to Montreal and Toronto and Canadian carriers' to Delhi and Mumbai. It also did not provide for the flexible marketing arrangements such as code sharing that have become prevalent in recent years.

The new agreement sets the stage for the growth of Canada-India air services and is consistent with Canada's International Policy Statement objective of creating sustainable long-term relationships with new economic powers. The active promotion of trade and investment by both countries has resulted in a record merchandise bilateral trade valued at about $2.45 billion, reflecting a trade relationship that has grown over 60 percent over the past five years.

In light of the potential for rapid expansion of the Canada-India air transport market, the Canadian and Indian negotiating delegations agreed to meet again in 2007, or sooner if necessary, to ensure that the air services agreement continues to be consistent with Canada's trade objectives and meet the needs of the travelling public.

India national flag carrier, Air India, resumed its service from India to Toronto, the financial capital of Canada, on May 15 last after a gap of eight years, fulfilling a long-standing demand of Indians living in that country. The national flag carrier had received a jolt when its Kanishka aircraft, a Boeing 747 flight from Toronto to Mumbai via London, was blown off the Irish coast in the Atlantic Ocean, killing 329 passengers, in 1985.

On the launch of Delhi-Amritsar-Birmingham-Toronto flight, the Chairman and Managing Director of Air India, Mr V. Thulasidas, said the flight was the second long haul flight being included this year from Delhi indicating the growth plans that Air-India has embarked upon. The Delhi-Frankfurt-Los Angeles flight had been inaugurated in March this year providing direct connectivity to the West coast of USA.

In a move to strengthen trade and economic ties with Canada, the Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, along with a seven-member delegation, visited Canada taking advantage of the new Air India flight. During their weeklong stay in Canada, the delegation explored the opportunities and possibilities in the field of small-scale industries and biotechnology through the mode of technology transfer, partnership and marketing network.

Capt. Singh also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation in Agricultural Biotechnology between the Province of Saskatchewan, Canada and the State of Punjab. A "Made in Punjab" Trade Show at International Centre, Mississauga, Ontario was also organized. This was the first initiative of Punjab's Industry to organize such a show anywhere outside India, informed Capt. Singh.

Air Deccan offers tickets at Re One

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 7: In a revolution that could go unmatched, there is great news for those who dream of air travel and this cannot become better than this. Beginning Tuesday morning, one can travel at Rupee one on Air Deccan, India's first low-cost airline.

Speaking to this correspondent, Managing Director of Air Deccan, Capt G R Gopinath, said "we will be offering three to four seats totally to 1,000 per month on each Airbus flights on metro routes at Re One. The idea is to give the flying experience to each and every Indian -- the common man." The sectors on which the rupee one ticket would be applicable are -- Delhi-Bangalore, Bangalore-Mumbai, Mumbai-Delhi, Delhi-Kolkata, Kolkata-Hyderabad-Kolkata, Kolkata-Chennai, Chennai-Mumbai, Mumbai-Coimbatore-Mumbai, Delhi-Guwahati-Delhi, and Delhi-Bagdogra-Delhi.

Air Deccan is world's fastest growing airline. In the first year, its turnover was Rs 350 crore and it moved over one million passengers. "In the current financial year, our turnover will be Rs 1,000 crore and over 4.4 million passengers will travel by us," said the Managing Director of Air Deccan.

Compare this with other big wigs of the sector: Indian Airlines moved 7.6 million and Jet Airways carried 7.9 million passengers. "It took them decades to reach this figure and we intend to achieve this in our second year of existence," said Capt Gopinath.

Air Deccan's present fleet strength is 18 with 13 ATRs and five Airbus aircraft. "Beginning June 15 we will be adding one brand new aircraft - either ATR or Airbus - every month to our fleet. By end of the current financial year we will have a fleet size of 29 with 18 ATRs and 11 Airbus planes."

He said that he would like every Indian to travel by air at an affordable price. "I am not in competition with any other carrier - be it Kingfisher or SpiceJet. My target is to woo the AC second-class train passengers and empower every Indian to fly."

Giving figures of tremendous growth potential in the country, he said India has only 400 flights per day for one billion population as compared to 45,000 flights a day in the US, which has one fourth of our population.

Continuing with its innovations like being the first company to introduce low-budget carrier, first to introduce 100 per cent seat inventory on Internet, first to introduce e-tickets etc, Air Deccan in a strategic tie up with Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL) has launched sale of tickets at HP petrol stations.

Air Deccan's Commercial Chief John Kuruvilla said "this is the first initiative of its kind in the country wherein a passenger will be able to book air tickets at a petrol station. This was first launched in Bangalore in March this year with 10 HPCL stations. It has greatly benefited those who do not have immediate access to the internet, travel agents or the airport."

Announcing the launch, Mr Sudhakar Rao, General Manager, North Zone, HPCL, said "we shall distribute tickets through 30 petrol stations in Delhi. We intend to cover 300 HPCL stations in North zone in the next three months."

Mr Sudhakar Rao said the partnership was a win-win situation for both the companies and was part of the PSU's efforts to provide more value-added services to its customers. Part of the Club HP retail brand, ticketing services are the latest addition to a long list of customer friendly services including bookshops, chocolate shops, eating joints and convenience stores.

The partnership would enable the low-cost carrier to expand its ticketing network to every nook and cranny of the country. Similar practice is in vogue in the US.

Capt Gopinath also announced special reduced fares on the Delhi-Bangalore and Bangalore-Mumbai sectors, to be applicable till the July six. The fares would be Rs 4600 and Rs 2600 respectively for these sectors.

In a world first Eurocopter lands copter on top of Everest

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 26: The enigma of Mount Everest continues to allure mountaineers and super-climbers even 50 years after when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay planted the first flag atop Mount Everest on May 29. The world is celebrating this day by marking the event worldwide. If the man can do it, how can machine be far behind? Keeping this cliché in mind, Eurocopter, the European helicopter maker, has landed its Ecureuil/ Astar AS350B3 helicopter on the top of Mount Everest in a world first. The Ecureuil helicopter landed May 14 at 8,850 meters atop the Himalayan peak, setting a new world record for high-altitude landings and takeoffs, according to Eurocopter.

The aircraft, flown by test pilot Didier Delsalle, took off from a Nepalese base camp of Lukla, and remained atop the peak for more than two minutes, Eurocopter said. A second successful landing and takeoff took place later. Eurocopter said it had submitted the feat to the International Federation of Aviation for approval as a world record. The company is a division of the defence and aviation giant European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).

On the India front, New Delhi has liberalised its air services agreement with Germany by increasing the total number of flights to 50 each week in both directions, with a maximum of 20 frequencies to and through Delhi.

At a recent meeting in New Delhi, top aviation officials of the two countries revised the air services agreement granting three additional points of call at Hyderabad, Goa and Kochi to designated German carriers, without the right to travel beyond these designated points (Fifth Freedom Right). On its part, Germany would grant access to three additional points of call to be specified by India without similar intermediate Fifth Freedom Right.

As per the agreement, the number of flights per week could be increased to 42 from October-November this year and further to 50 in March-April next year. The designated carriers of each side would be permitted to operate these flights with an aircraft with capacity not exceeding that of a Boeing-747, official sources said.

Germany would be permitted to operate a maximum of seven frequencies to or through any point of call in India, but for Delhi, their designated German airlines would be permitted mount a maximum of 20 frequencies to or through the national capital in a phased manner.

For Delhi, the number of weekly flights could be raised to 14 each week this winter, 17 from next summer and 20 from winter of 2006-07. The two sides also agreed to meet again in mid-2006 to hold further discussions in mid-2006, including the use of Airbus A380, the world's largest aircraft with 550 plus seats.

With the launch of Air India Express, India's first international budget airline, foreign carriers have begun to eye this sector. The latest one is Oman Air which has announced new flights to India during the peak summer from next month with the launch of two additional routes to Delhi and Hyderabad taking its services from 30 to 40 weekly flights and extending destinations from four to six.

There will be four weekly flights to Delhi from Muscat, an airline official said. It would fly three flights a week to Hyderabad with flights departing Muscat after midnight and arriving at the Andhra capital early morning and then returning from there to Muscat in the morning. He also announced that Oman Air would increase its weekly services to Kochi from five flights to daily flights.

Air-India has also announced its third weekly flight from Bahrain to Mumbai from June 7 with the introduction of services every Tuesday bringing to seven the number of its departures from Bahrain. The high point of the third flight to Mumbai is that it connects within a few hours from Mumbai to several other domestic destinations in India, particularly Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Bangalore, an official said pointing out that it now has two weekly flights to Cochin, two to Calicut, four to Thiruvananthapuram and three to Mumbai.

Meanwhile, Jet Airways has become the first airline in India to induct Airbus A340-300 E into its fleet for servicing its long-haul routes from Mumbai to London. The A340-300E aircraft was selected because of its high degree of operational flexibility and economy combined with optimal passenger comfort.

Says Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, Chief Executive Officer, Jet Airways, "We are delighted to present to our traveling public, this state-of-the-art A340-300E aircraft. This technology-driven enhanced version results in fuel-efficiency and operational flexibility. This aircraft type also offers superior cabin comfort, equipped with the world's best flat beds and an Inflight Entertainment system (IFE) which promises to offer unmatched passenger delight."

Airbus-Vice President Sales, India and South Asia, Nigel Harwood, said: "Jet Airways is renowned throughout the world for its high level of service. Airbus is delighted that it has chosen the A340-300E to commence long-haul operations."

Jet Airways have also strengthened their operations team by appointing Capt Gustav Baldauf as Vice-President, Flight Operations. Before this assignment Capt Baldauf was the Executive Vice President, Flight Operations with Austrian Airlines and brings with him his valuable experience on the A340 aircraft as an Examiner.

A-I Express commences services from Delhi, Mumbai

NEW DELHI, May 23: Air-India Express, the international budget airline set up by Air-India, has commenced its services from the city, with the operation of its first flight on Mumbai-Abu Dhabi-Muscat sector. While the flight on the Mumbai-Abu Dhabi-Muscat sector operated on Sunday night, the services on Delhi-Muscat sector began operation from Monday, according to an Air India spokesman.

Initially, the low-cost carrier would operate three flights per week on the Delhi-Muscat sector and increase the frequency to six per week from the next month, he said. Air-India had launched A-I Express from Thiruvananthapuram on April 29, 2005. In the initial phase, flights would be operated from five points Thiruvananthapuram, Kozikode, Kochi, Mumbai and Delhi, he added.

Safran is born; Posts sale of 3 m Euros

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 23: During the Annual General and Extraordinary Meeting of Shareholders, shareholders approved the merger of Sagem and Snecma, as well as the new name, Safran. The Safran Group is organized in four branches: Aerospace Propulsion, Communications, Aerospace Equipment, Defense-Security. The group is headquartered in Paris, France.

Jean-Paul Béchat is Chairman of the Executive Board, which also includes Grégoire Olivier and Yves Imbert. Mario Colaiacovo is Chairman of the Supervisory Board. Shareholders also approved the financial statements of Sagem for 2004 at the meeting. On May 10, the annual general meeting of Snecma shareholders approved the merger with Sagem, as well as Snecma's consolidated financial statements for 2004. The Safran group has posted sales of 2,380 million euros for the three months ended March 31, 2005, based on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), and 2,480 millions euros based on French accounting standards. These are pro forma figures, calculated by adding the sales of Snecma and Sagem.

On the basis of identical accounting standards, sales rose 4.5 percent over the first quarter of 2004. Application of the IAS 39 standard to sales in foreign currencies had an impact of 100 million euros on the Aerospace Propulsion and Aerospace Equipment branches. Higher sales by the Aerospace Propulsion branch reflected a growth in service business and increased deliveries of helicopter engines.

Results at the Communications branch were contrasted, with strong growth in the broadband segment (ADSL modems, digital TV set-top boxes), but a decrease in mobile phone sales compared with the first quarter of 2004, when sales were especially strong. The Aerospace Equipment branch also saw higher sales, mainly due to its wiring, wheels, brakes and nacelle businesses. The Defense and Security branch posted steady growth in sales of aeronautical systems and security products.

Spice, Kingfisher hot up fare war in Indian skies

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 21: Much to the delight of passengers, a new fare war has begun in the Indian skies. Though Indian Airlines and Jet Airways had recently raised the fares due to sharp increase in air turbine fuel (ATF), the latest entrant, SpiceJet that commences operations from May 23, has offered air tickets at Rs 99. Air Deccan has announced plans for ridiculously low priced tickets at Re One.

Low-cost SpiceJet Chairman Siddhanth Sharma said to celebrate the launch of the airline, SpiceJet would offer over 30,000 "Red Hot Special Fares" starting at Rs 99 for the first 99 days of its operation. These fares would also be available at Rs 499 and Rs 799. Over 9,000 seats would be available under the introductory offer and all flights would offer between five to 10 seats daily at low prices.

With a fleet of three Boeing 737-800 aircraft and an initial investment of $25 million, SpiceJet will operate its first flight on Monday on the Delhi-Ahmedabad-Mumbai route. On May 27, the airline will fly to Goa and on June 13, to Pune and Bangalore. The airline offers a single class in all its 189-seater planes, with complementary snacks and water.

"It is not just the price, but what we offer at that price and our commitment to high quality service that will differentiate and position SpiceJet," according to the CEO Mark Winders. He said "we see ourselves taking train traffic and putting it in air, creating a new market for seniors, students, leisure and train travelers."

He said by January 2006, the airline would have 10 brand new aircraft. "We see ourselves with a fleet of 20-30 airplanes eventually." The company aims to issue convertible bonds in June to raise $90 million for its fleet expansion plans.

Company director Ajay Singh said SpiceJet, a reincarnate of ModiLuft, was 20 per cent owned by foreign institutional investors and other institutions such as Citibank, ABN Amro and Goldman Sachs. Royal Holdings Services Limited, a Nevada-based company, has a major stake in SpiceJet.

On May 18, the opening day of the bookings, SpiceJet sold a record 37,348 tickets. The company claimed no other carrier in Asia had managed to sell so many tickets on day one. It opened bookings with tickets as low-priced as Rs 99 to Rs 799. Besides, its regular fares range from Rs 699 to Rs 6,999. SpiceJet's website received in excess of 5.4 million hits in the last 30 hours, the company claimed.

"I am astounded by the level of bookings on the first day. We had our first sale at 6:40 am. Tickets were sold not only in the discounted category but also in the regular fares category. The response that we have received shows that there is a huge untapped market for air travel in India," said Mark Winders.

Compared with this, Air Deccan, the country's first low-cost carrier, has so far sold a total of 82,263 Rs 500 tickets, according to its website. A normal SpiceJet ticket costs a little over the AC III tier train fare. These one-way fares will be available in five to six different price buckets, with the most expensive being approximately 55 to 60 per cent of the regular full-economy fare. The airline is also expected to break even in the first year of operation itself.

A day after SpiceJet announced its debut; Kingfisher Airlines on Wednesday intensified the airfare war by offering discounted tickets on the Delhi-Bangalore and Mumbai-Bangalore routes. Unlike other airlines that have several buckets of discount fares, Kingfisher Airlines offers a single fare on these sectors. The Delhi-Bangalore one-way ticket will cost Rs 4,999, a 60 per cent discount over the ticket prices of Indian Airlines and Jet Airways. On the Mumbai-Bangalore route, Kingfisher will have a flat fare of Rs 2,999. Other full-service airlines charge nearly Rs 6,200.

Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Air Sahara charge Rs 12,600 for a Delhi-Bangalore ticket. In comparison, SpiceJet has an inaugural offer of Rs 99 on the Delhi-Pune-Bangalore route, while its highest fare is close to Rs 8,000.

Sharing the motivation behind the launch of the special Fun Time fare, twelve days into its launch, Alex Wilcox, President and Chief Operating Officer, Kingfisher Airlines reiterated that "The Kingfisher Class experience is something that is new and unique to the Indian skies and by introducing this Fun Time fare, we hope to offer more guests the opportunity to fly with us and get a first-hand feel of Kingfisher Class. Kingfisher Airlines will commence flights on the New Delhi-Bangalore sector on June 9 and for the month of June, a special inaugural one-way fare of Rupees 4,999 will be offered."

Kingfisher Airlines currently operates only on the metro routes and offers a 'triple daily' service from Mumbai to Bangalore, in both directions. The second brand-new Airbus A320 aircraft will be pressed into service from June 9 and the airline will offer a 'triple daily' service on the New Delhi-Bangalore sector from the same day.

Country's first low-cost carrier, Air Deccan, has announced that it would offer Re One air tickets to lure the common man to travel by air.

Kingfisher to break even in first year: Mallya

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 15: Whatever Industrialist Vijaya Mallya does, he does it in style. Keeping up with his tag of "King of Good Times", flamboyant liquour baron entered the aviation sector with a bang by launching Kingfisher Airlines. "Whatever I have done, its with the intention of becoming Number One: Be it whisky, rum or beer. So shall be with my new airline," says a confident Dr Vijaya Mallya.

After carving out a niche for him in the liquor business, the head of the diversified UB Group has taken off to make his mark in the Indian sky. May 9, the date of the airline launch, coincided with birthday of his son, Siddhartha, who turned 18 that day. The UB Group became the second largest spirits company in the world in March after it bought a majority stake in its rival Shaw Wallace.

Even before the launch of the airline, Dr Mallya gained several firsts to his credit. Kingfisher Airlines was the first private Indian carrier taking delivery of a brand-new aircraft to commence commercial operations. It took delivery of an Airbus 320 in Toulouse, France, in the last week of April. It was also for the first time that any private airline had its pre-launch party at the Air India hangar, displaying public-private partnership.

In the words of Maharashtra Chief Mininister Vilasrao Deshmukh: "Kingfisher Airlines is a classic example of public-private partnership as India's own carrier Air India and Indian Airlines would provide ground service to Kingfisher Airlines."

In a coup of sorts, Dr Mallaya signed a landmark agreement with Indian Airlines by which Kingfisher outsourced its ground handling, engineering and aircraft maintenance support from the public-sector carrier. Under the 120-crore deal, Kingfisher will also buy the surplus flight kilometres that Indian Airline operates in non-profitable routes in a bid to keep its overheads and costs low.

Though now a competitor, Dr Mallya went on all out praise for Indian Airlines. "The public-sector airline has a wealth expertise and facilities for Airbus A-320 aircraft which Kingfisher too has. Indian Airlines is the world leader in handling these aircraft, as it was the launch customer of A 320s. They also have enough surplus capacity that can be put into profitable use. In an era of outsourcing, it is a good win-win situation for both," says Mallya.

He said the average seat per kilometre (ASKM) was part of the overall Kingfisher Airlines-Indian Airlines agreement in which the private carrier would make payments to its public sector counterpart for costs incurred per aircraft turnaround.

He said the first such agreement was signed between two private carriers Damania and NEPC in 1995. However, both the airlines closed down later.

Under the ASKM sharing, Kingfisher will buy the surplus flight kilometres that Indian Airlines operates on non-profitable routes to keep its overheads and operating costs low. "Our agreement with Indian Airlines is for two years minimum. It gives us an immense saving potential. Besides, the present policy allows pooling of flying requirements by carriers," said Dr Mallya.

Kingfisher's agreement with Indian Airlines also allows the private carrier to use the terminals and infrastructure of the state-owned carriers in all the airports. He said Indian Airlines is one of the finest products of the country. And it is for this reason, it does ground handling of 23 international airlines, including Singapore and Emirates that are top-notch airlines of the world.

He said that the carrier hopes to break-even in the first year of operation itself. Kingfisher will start flying smaller routes in December once its fleet of Airbus A 319s come on board. The airline's A 319 fleet based out of Bangalore and will serve operations to cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi.

Though, Kingfisher commenced operations with two flights from Mumbai to Bangalore, the frequency would go up to three from May 20. From June 6, it plans to launch triple daily flights between Bangalore and Delhi. By July-end, Kingfisher will commence six flights a week on the Mumbai-Delhi route. "We plan to stress on more frequencies on each sector as that is what a customer desires," he said.

He said "Kingfisher will have 11 planes flying by December, each logging 11 hours a day. We will have another six next year. By 2008, we will have 30 Airbus A320s and three Airbus A 319s in our fleet. And more aircraft would follow in the subsequent years. My vision is to make Kingfisher the largest private sector carrier." The airline will offer a single class configuration with 174 seats on all the A 320 routes.

Keeping its promise of offering premium product with low fares as compared to existing carriers like Jet Airways, Indian Airlines and Air Sahara, Kingfisher offers fares in three buckets - Rs 3,900, Rs 4,900 and Rs 5,900 on its Mumbair-Bangalore sector. "I do not want to offer complex fares to the passengers. The tickets will be sold in three different slabs on first-come-first-serve basis."

Although Kingfisher is being positioned as a "full service" airline, it will have just one class for all passengers. For the first time in the domestic aviation sector, all Kingfisher planes will have in-flight entertainment with a personal TV screen at the back of each seat with a 10-channel audio and five-channel video system.

Mallaya has also hired the best possible staff that includes extremely attractive and well-trained flight attendants. He keeps his personal touch in hiring the staff to keep up with the slogan "Fly the Good Times". For example, he has hired Ms Nandini Verma of Jet Airways fame as Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, UB Group.

Air India resumes operations to Canada

NEW DELHI, May 15: Air India on Sunday resumed its service from India to Toronto, the financial capital of Canada, after a gap of eight years, fulfilling a long-standing demand of Indians living in that country.

Air India's first service from New Delhi via Amritsar and Birmingham was flagged off at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here by Tourism Minister Renuka Chowdhury, and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who also launched a special service -- 'Swagat Seva' -- at the airport for providing help to foreign tourists. Air India will operate three services a week to Toronto.

The national flag carrier had received a jolt when its Kanishka aircraft, a Boeing 747 flight from Toronto to Mumbai via London, was blown off the Irish coast in the Atlantic ocean, killing 329 passengers, in 1985. Learning lessons from the past, special security measures have been taken by the Canadian authorities to protect the aircraft and passengers.

Speaking at a function organized at IGI Airport to mark the commencement of services, Mr Praful Patel complimented Air-India on expanding its network and introducing direct flights to destinations in the West from major Indian cities. He expressed optimism that with the product being substantially upgraded, Air-India will attain a high level of passenger satisfaction. Mrs Renuka Choudhury expressed happiness at the launch of the flight as it would help boost tourism. She said the joint relationship between the Civil Aviation Ministry and tourism will usher in a new era for promoting tourism and this new flight will help the tourist places in Northern India. Mr V. Thulasidas, Chairman and Managing Director, Air-India, while welcoming the guests said that the Delhi-Amritsar-Birmingham-Toronto flight was the second long haul flight being included this year from Delhi indicating the growth plans that Air-India has embarked upon. The Delhi-Frankfurt-Los Angeles flight had been inaugurated in March this year providing direct connectivity to the West coast of USA.

Mrs Chowdhury said the 'Swagat Seva', a facilitation service evolved on the lines of 'Maharabba' in Dubai, would progressively be implemented in Mumbai and other international airports. "There are five-million Indian tourists going to foreign destinations and India has become a major market for outbound tourists. This cannot be at the cost of domestic tourism which is affected by high cost of air travel. We have to reverse this trend", the Tourism Minister said.

A proposal to instal GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system on all taxis at the airport is also being considered by the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministries, along with having gift shops and money-changers after the immigration and customs counters in the departure area of the international airports.

Two decades after the bombing of Kanishka, a British Columbia Supreme Court had on March 16 acquitted prime accused Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik, of first-degree murder and conspiracy charges in the downing of the Air India plane. However, following public outcry against the verdict, former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, was appointed to advice the Canadian Government whether a public inquiry was needed into the disaster after the acquittals.

With the launch of these new flights, Air-India will provide to the people of Punjab direct and convenient services to Birmingham, the heartland of industrial and economic activity in the UK, and to Toronto, the financial capital of Canada. The introduction of these services, which is part of Air-India's sustained drive to expand its network, will take the number of flights operated by Air-India to the UK from 18 to 21 per week. Air-India at present operates 10 flights to London which are extended to the USA -- seven to New York and three to Chicago, there are eight terminator flights -- five on the Mumbai-London-sector, two on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad-London sector and one on the routing Mumbai-Delhi-London. Three more flights will be launched on the Delhi-Dhaka-Kolkata-London sector effective June 18, 2005, connecting East India to London. With the introduction of these flights, the number of flights to the UK will go up to 24 a week, thus doubling the capacity offered by Air-India on the India-UK route in the past six months. Air-India is poised to significantly improve its market leadership positions on the India-Europe-USA routes. The airline has grown from 10 services (seven to New York and three to Chicago) a week in December 2002 to 28 services (seven each to New York, Newark, Chicago and Los Angeles) a week, from March 2005. Air-India now operates 14 flights a week to Frankfurt, which has now become a hub in Europe.

Air-India had, in the past, operated flights on the Mumbai-Delhi-Amritsar-Moscow-Birmingham route from January 1982 to October 1984.

Allow IA, AI to purchase aircraft quickly

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 12: Despite the bitter war of words over Air-India's nearly $7-billion order for Boeing jets, the Government must act fast to clear the misgivings and allow the state-owned Maharaja to acquire much needed new aircraft at the earliest. It is time to complement the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, who has given freedom to the Chairmen and Managing Directors (CMDs) of the state-owned airlines - Mr V Thulasidas of Air India and Mr Sunil Arora of Indian Airlines - to initiate processes to purchase new aircraft.

Though Indian Airlines decision to purchase 43 Airbus aircraft is yet to be cleared by the Union Cabinet, Air India Board has recently announced the decision to purchase 50 Boeing planes.

A quick Government decision of allowing the public sector airlines would not only help them meet the growing competition from private carriers, but also help them replace its ageing fleet and arrest the depleting market share. However, the past non-Congress led Governments had dithered in taking this bold decision. As a result the market share of the public sector airline had been steadily falling. Last time when the public sector Indian Airlines had purchased aircraft was 15 years ago when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister.

Though some eyebrows have been raised on the Air India decision, but the Civil Aviation Minister was quick to defend his Air India team and countered any corruption charges. He also denied that there were any geo-political considerations. In fact, Mr Patel said that the deal with Boeing was purely based on techno-economic parameters.

"The process of acquiring planes for state carriers is based on Government's existing system. On my request, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had constituted an oversight committee, which vetted the whole selection process for purchase of 43 Airbus A320 aircraft by Indian Airlines. The same procedure will be followed for Air-India deal also,'' said Mr Patel.

The Minister said "aircraft purchase has been institutionalised. There are checks and balances." He, however, said there was enough time to correct any "wrongs" as the Air-India deal to acquire 50 Boeing aircraft was still to be approved by the government.

Citing the example of Airbus, which won a deal to supply 43 airplanes to Indian Airlines last year after trying for four years, Mr Patel said deals like this do not come through overnight. But he said he was "willing to abide by any advice anyone might have to improve the system".

The US-based Boeing's bitter European rival Airbus has demanded an inquiry by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) into the deal alleging foul play. The Minister said the Boeing purchase would not be derailed by the row.

Going by the past practices, a deal of such magnitude has to pass through several phases before it is given a final nod by the Government. Presuming that there were geo political considerations into such a huge deal in the prospects of two countries forming a strategic alliance, an observer said the Government would have enough time a hand to judge whether the US Government is doing enough to keep the rising momentum in ties.

Amidst flurry of charges and countercharges even by members of Parliament, Boeing said that its deal with Air-India "could stand any scrutiny and was above board." Dr Dinesh Keskar, senior vice-president, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said, "this deal can stand any scrutiny. As a foreign company we cannot comment on any decision India might take towards conducting a CVC into the deal entered into by Boeing with Air-India. The matter is sovereign to India and not our prerogative."

"Air India has a strict evaluation procedure. And we were selected after Air India had decided on all the factors and taken all the parameters into consideration. The package we offered was comprehensive and competitive, and needless to say, pricing is an important part of the package. But the bottom line is that our product is better than the competition," said Dr Keskar.

He said that the three new planes, namely the Boeing 777-300ER, 777-200LR and 787-8 (Dreamliner), was better than the products offered by its rival Airbus. The new innovations it was offering included, crown area for crew seat, state of the art computer systems in the 787s attached to the back seat of each aircraft, more seating space and composite parts which do not corrode and can withstand great pressure.

"Our newest airplanes for the medium, long and ultra-long haul markets are the right choice for Air India because they are clearly positioned to provide the national carrier with higher revenue potential. Financial benefits by conducting objective calculations reveal that all Boeing airplanes, 777-300ER, 777-200LR and 787-8 have operating profits that far exceed those of competitors," he said.

Dr Keskar said that operating Boeing aircrafts will not only help Air India earn more revenue, as the fuselage of these planes were larger than their Airbus rivals, but would also help it save more money, by lowering its operational costs.

"The fuselage in the 777-300ER is 78 cm wider than that of the A340-600. It can carry 333 passengers as against 305 that can be carried by A340-600. Also it has 12 percent more cargo space. Apart from all this 777-300ER is 20 tonnes lighter than its competitor and burns one million gallon less fuel, thereby lowering its operational costs. The 777-200LR and 787-8 burn two million gallons less fuel than its Airbus rivals, the A340-500s and the A330-200s respectively. Maintenance costs are also lower," he added.

"Based on the projected route pattern and aircraft utilization for Air India, the operating profit per year of 27 787-8s is 81 million higher that that of the A330-200s, the eight 777-200LRs have an advantage over A340-500s by 44 million US dollars, and the 15 777-300 ERs generate 60 million dollar greater annual profit than the A340-600s. Thus that cumulative operating profit per year for Air India with a fleet of these 50 airplanes is 185 million dollars greater than that of an Airbus fleet," he said.

Dr Keskar further said that the 787-8 will be coming in 2008, adding that Boeing was proud of the fact that India which has been among the first to have the 707s and the 747s in its fleet will also be among the first to have the 787-8 Dreamliner.

Airbus row not to affect ties with France: Natwar

SANTINIKETAN, May 8: The controversy over Air-India's decision to buy aircraft from the US-based Boeing company and not from Airbus would not affect relations between India and France as both were "mature and friendly countries", India's External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh said on Saturday.

Speaking to newsmen on the sidelines of the ceremony to hand over Nobel medallion replicas at the Visva-Bharati University here, Singh said that French ambassador Dominique Girard had clarified that he had been misquoted in the media over the issue. "If that is so, then the matter ends here," Singh said. Singh said India had already expressed displeasure over the kind of language used by the French envoy.

"This is not the kind of language one should use for a friendly country. Such language is not part of diplomatic norms. However, the French ambassador has already said that he was misquoted and I hope the matter ends here," he added.

Asked whether India was "cosying up" to the US too much, Singh said, "Indo-US relations are not at the expense of some other country. So, why should it affect relations with any other country?"

Fly at Re One with Air Deccan

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 6: "Congress ka haath, Aam Admi ke saath". That is what the Congress had promised to the common man just over one year ago. It may sound incredible but its true that "Aam Admi" can now fulfill his dream of flying -- that too at Rupee One. This is courtesy, Air Deccan that has sought to position itself as a common man's airline by choosing cartoonist R. K. Laxman's immortal character `The Common Man' as its mascot.

While unveiling the new mascot, the airline's Managing Director, Capt G R Gopinath, announced new fares for just Rupee 1 that would be introduced shortly. Capt Gopinath said every Airbus operated by the airline would offer four or five seats at this rate.

He said the flights offered fares, which were as low as Rs. 500, and 40 per cent of their seats were priced below Rs. 2,500. The one-rupee reservations could be booked 90 days in advance. This excluded Rs. 221, which was collected for security payment by the Airports Authority of India.

India's first low cost airline, Air Deccan, in the 18 months of its existence, had flown more than a million passengers with a fleet of 17 aircraft and 111 flights a day on 33 routes. Nearly one-lakh passengers had flown paying Rs. 500. Capt Gopinath said "we started our journey with a dream. A dream inspired by just one statement -- I want every Indian to fly at least once in their lifetime."

Capt. Gopinath said, "The Common Man and Air Deccan share a commonality...they are both for the people and by the people, that's where stemmed the idea of approaching Mr. Laxman."

Mr. R.K. Laxman, the creator of the 'Common Man', who is known to be a man of few words, said "My 'Common Man' is the voice of every Indian and I feel every Indian must fly regardless of their economic situation. I feel Captain Gopi's vision for his airline, of empowerment of every Indian perfectly fits with the persona of the 'Common Man'".

Incidentally, Air Deccan's announcement of rock bottom fares comes days ahead of the launch of rival budget carriers Kingfisher airlines and Spice Jet, who will battle it out to tap the booming air passenger market in India.

Capt Gopinath said the suggestion to offer fares at Re one was made by Laxman, with whom Air Deccan had signed an agreement to use the "common man" mascot for the airline. The cartoonist hails from Mysore district of Karnataka. He said Air Deccan would receive one ATR or an Airbus aircraft each month of the 32 Airbus and 36 ATRs for which it had placed orders.

From May 9, Air Deccan would commence daily return flights to Chandigarh from Delhi at rates beginning from Rs. 500 plus taxes. In the North, Air Deccan presently connects Delhi to Kanpur, Amritsar, Jaipur, Jammu, Dehradun, Lucknow and Bhopal on the short haul routes. On the Long haul it connects Delhi to Bangalore, Mumbai, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Calcutta and Chennai.

Announcing the launch of flights to Chandigarh, Capt. Gopinath said "we had announced opening of the Chandigarh sector sometime ago, but due to unavoidable reasons we couldn't keep up our schedule and it kept getting delayed. I had been getting repeated requests from the media and the people of Chandigarh to start our flight and now I am glad it is finally getting airborne." On future plans, he said "we would be looking at connecting Ludhiana to Delhi."

Qatar Airways - a Five Star experience

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 6: It is the industry leader of the Middle East by virtue of being a step ahead of the rest. Fully flat First Class sleeper beds, largest seat pitch and biggest individual TV entertainment screens across all cabins on long-haul routes are some of the traits of Qatar Airways that makes it a Five Star carrier.

Qatar Airways is one of the fastest growing airlines in the world operating a modern all-Airbus fleet of 39 aircraft, which will double in size over the next few years following a $5.1 billion order for 34 additional Airbus jets, says a proud Akbar Al Baker, CEO of the airline.

He informed that the airline is one of the launch customers of the twin-deck A380 'super jumbos' with four aircraft on order, scheduled for delivery from 2009.

The airline operates to 60 destinations across Europe, the Middle East, Indian sub-continent and the Far East from its operational hub in Doha, capital of the State of Qatar in the Arabian Gulf. Qatar Airways will expand the number of routes further from May 2 when Tunis and Algiers join the network, followed by Athens on June 15.

Of the total 19 flights per week to India, the airline has six flights to Mumbai, seven from Thiruvananthapuram and three each to Kochi and Hyderabad. In addition, Qatar Airways operates cargo flights from Doha to Delhi three times a week and Chennai twice weekly using an A300 freighter.

Mr Al Baker said, "India is a country with huge potential as it is enjoying economic prosperity. It is also one of the world's top selling holiday destinations. Our aim is to simply serve all international airports in India and we want to have a good slice of the market." On April 14, he informed that India and Qatar signed a bilateral air services agreement to improve connectivity and decided to further bolster multifaceted ties between the two countries.

The accord was signed by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Qatar Finance Minister Yousef Hussain Kamal in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the visiting Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani after the two leaders held discussions on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest.

Following the open skies policy from November 1, 2004 to March 31 this year, Mr Al Baker informed that Qatar Airways had almost tripled the number of weekly non-stop flights to 51 services a week between Doha and India. He had welcomed the Indian government's decision because capacity had traditionally been restricted and this move was a step in the right direction to provide greater competition and to serve the raveling public, potentially paving the way for an open skies policy year round.

Independent aviation quality monitor Skytrax has awarded Qatar Airways its highest accolade for airline service - a Five Star ranking for premier status - ensuring the airline becomes only the world's third airline to achieve such privileged status. Mr Al Baker said with this award Qatar Airways joined Cathy Pacific and Singapore Airlines as a leader in airline quality.

Skytrax also ranked Qatar Airways' cabin crew as the best in the Middle East in 2004 for the second year running, and fifth best in the world following a survey of more than two million passengers worldwide.

He said "a five star ranking cements Qatar Airways' position as a world leader of airline quality. The five-star ranking is the 'ultimate' approval of Qatar Airways' strong commitment to deliver the best service in the sky. It recognises that Qatar Airways is at the forefront of product innovation."

He said "only two other airlines in the world are carrying this prestigious status, and to be awarded second place out of the three airlines, is an honour indeed. The star-ranking represents a quality rating for services provided by an airline, from its lounges, transfers to the aircraft and all aspects of the in-flight service and amenities for all classes of travel."

Mr Al Baker said "Qatar Airways was awarded five stars in a number of categories such as onboard catering, cabin staff service, staff attitude and friendliness, lounge facilities, transfers and also on the overall amenities and services relating to First Class. "The five star ranking and our achievement in the popular Airline of the Year survey, demonstrates that we are being acknowledged as one of the best airlines by the airline industry and by the travelling public. These results certainly prove that we are on the way to becoming the best airline in the world," said Mr Al Baker.

The 2004 Skytrax survey was carried out between June 2003 and March 2004, with a total of 10.8 million eligible entries from passengers made up from more than 92 nationalities. These statistics allow this survey to claim to be the world's largest independent passenger survey and it is being generally recognised as the leading global monitor of passenger opinions.

Qatar Airways is the first foreign airline and the second carrier after Air India to open a satellite office in Thiruvalla. The airline already has offices in three other cities in the state - Trivandrum, Cochin and Calicut. The new office will help cater for locals in and around Thiruvalla and expatriates from the regions that are currently working in the GCC/ Middle East and Europe/USA.

Mr. Akbar Al Baker, CEO, Qatar Airways was born in Doha in 1960. He is a graduate in Economics and Commerce. He also holds a private pilot licence. Mr. Al Baker has worked at various levels in the Civil Aviation Directorate, leading to his promotion as a Head of Finance & Administration.

In addition to his present position as CEO of Qatar Airways, he is also the CEO of several divisions of the airline, including Qatar Holidays, Qatar Aviation Services, Qatar Duty Free Company, Doha International Airport, Qatar Distribution Company and Qatar Aircraft Catering Company. Mr. Al Baker is chairman of Qatar Tourism Authority and through his role, has been instrumental in putting Qatar on the global tourism map.

Since taking the helm at Qatar Airways in 1997, Al Baker has developed the airline from a four-aircraft operation and small route network to a fleet size today of 39 planes flying to 60 destinations around the world.

Air India's budget airline takes off

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, April 29: Air India's first low cost air service, Air India Express, took off from here to Abu Dhabi on Friday morning, fulfilling a long-pending demand of Keralites working in the Gulf countries.

Governor R L Bhatia, flagged off the maiden flight in presence of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, at a colourful function at the International Airport here.

In his address, Mr Praful Patel said "Air India Express is true representation of India's ethos and reflected the soul of India. Air India Express is a new cheaper but comfortable airlines especially for those who work in Gulf for a living. Brothers and sisters of Kerala brought hard earned foreign exchange to India when we needed foreign exchange badly. Now is the time to give them something back and this cheap, affordable service is the perfect gift."

The Minister said Delhi-Amritsar-Birmingham-Toronto Air India Express Budget Service and Kolkata-London Airline Express Service will be started next month. He said that aviation can change the lives of Indians. He said that the mindset that airlines is only for the elite should be changed. Connectivity is important and reaching destination in time in a cheap mode of travel should get prominence.

The Union Minister agreed to Kerala Chief Minister's request for an airport in Kannur. He said that sanction will be given for the development works in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode airports.

In his welcome address, the Air India Chairman and Managing Director, Mr V Thulasidas, said "Air India Express will have fares which are almost half of the market rates." A fully-owned subsidiary of Air India, Air India Express plans to operate 31 flights from three airports in Kerala-- Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi (Nedumbassery) and Kozhikode (Karippur).

US dismisses Airbus fears over AI deal

NEW DELHI, April 28: The United States has dismissed Airbus apprehensions over the Air India's decision to acquire 50 aircraft from American Boeing, saying it was confident that the deal was "fair". "All our companies keep higher standards and conduct their dealings. You know we have a very stringent corrupt practices and law... Boeing is one of our best companies and I have full confidence that the deal is fair," US Charge d'Affaires Robert Blake, told newsmen when asked about Airbus Industrie seeking a Central Vigilance Commission enquiry into the Rs 30,000 crore deal.

Airbus, which lost the deal to Boeing, had on Wednesday sought that the entire evaluation process of Air India be looked into by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) but Air India accused the European aircraft manufacturer of carrying out a "misinformation campaign".

As Airbus Vice-President Nigel Harwood, said he would write to the Civil Aviation Ministry and Air India seeking reconsideration of the evaluation and call for fresh tenders, an Air India spokesman said the Indian carrier had "not deviated one bit" from the specifications prescribed in the Request for Proposal document.


Give us fair, equal opportunity, says Airbus
Airbus A380 makes history with maiden flight
Travel agents in truce with Air India
India, US unshackle skies with landmark pact
Deadline for AI verdict extended
India, China opt for open skies policy
Indian Airlines hikes fares by 12 per cent
First-ever non-stop flight between Delhi, NYC
Eurocopter offers experts to probe copter crash
Making the difference at Air India
AAI to place 25 futuristic airports on Indian radar
AAI pays interim Dividend of Rs 12 cr for 2004-05
Travel to Gulf for Rs 2,500, Air India Express style



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