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Give us fair, equal opportunity, says Airbus

NEW DELHI, April 27: A day after the Air India Board approved a plan to purchase 50 aircraft from the US manufacturer, Boeing, in a deal estimated to be worth $ 6 billion, Airbus cried foul, demanding that the process be reviewed and bids examined afresh.

Talking to reporters here on Wednesday, Nigel Harwood, vice-president (sales) for India and South Asia, demanded that Air India give Airbus a "fair and equal'' opportunity to present its case.

"The procedure lacked transparency. We were never allowed to present facts before the Air India board. The Civil Aviation Minister, Praful Patel, had promised total transparency in the acquisition process but we are shocked that we were not even considered. If this is how Air India plans to purchase planes, why should we even enter the bids?''

Mr Harwood demanded that the entire documentation of Air India bids be presented before the Central Vigilance Commission for an impartial and fair assessment. "We are not disappointed but we are astonished by the fact that Air India chose to ignore Airbus completely without even giving us a chance to offer our views. This is a major deal for us and Air India is a very valued and prestigious airline for us.''

He claimed that tender norms were skewed in favour of Boeing and the Air India Chairman did not even reply to a number of Airbus' letters on the company's passenger planes and economic advantages for Air India.

The main objection by Airbus is that its superjumbo A-380, which completed its test flight safely on Wednesday, was not considered. Mr Harwood said Boeing's B-787 "Dreamliner'' would be available for delivery not before 2009 and its seat configuration of nine abreast in the economy class gave Boeing an unfair advantage.

He had written to Air India saying eight abreast in the economy class was the accepted norm worldwide and that the nine abreast seating arrangement was preferred only by charter operators. B-787 was in direct competition with A-350, which would be available by 2010.

Mr Harwood said A-330 and A-340 were equipped with the most modern, fuel-efficient engines and would offer better efficiency and lower operating costs to Air India. Airbus was in a comfortable position to deliver the planes in 2006. Last year, it delivered 320 commercial passenger planes and the European consortium planned to cross that figure this year, he said.

Air India officials cited their November 24, 2004 tender norms, maintaining that the norms for the fleet acquisition plan were not changed. The tender specified the types of aircraft Air India proposed to purchase. These included A-340-500, B-777-200 LR, A340-600 and B-777-300 ER, A-330-200 and B-7E7-8. The plan aimed at covering the period up to 2012-13, providing for an increase in fleet size from 34 to 74.

Airbus A380 makes history with maiden flight

BLAGNAC (France), April 28: The world's largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, took off successfully on its maiden flight on Wednesday, a milestone for aviation and for the European aircraft-maker's battle with American rival Boeing. The giant plane's four engines hauled its double-decked, 280-metric tonne fuselage aloft at 10:29 a.m. (1:59 pm IST), an achievement watched by thousands of spectators 101 years after the Wright brothers first mastered controlled, sustained flight.

The plane carried a crew of six and 20 metric tonnes of on-board test instruments. Its first flight lasted about four hours. "The takeoff went perfectly," Alain Garcia, an Airbus engineering executive, said on LCI television. The plane stayed within 160 kilometres of the airport in Blagnac, a suburb of Toulouse in southwest France, from where it took off. It beamed back real-time measurements to Airbus headquarters at Blagnac.

There were cheers and applause as the white jet with a blue tail - its engines surprisingly quiet - picked up speed down the runway and lifted smoothly into the blue skies. Fire trucks were stationed alongside the runway as a precaution. Airbus chief test pilot Jacques Rosay, flight captain Claude Lelaie and four fellow crew members - who all wore orange flight suits - took no chances.

Airbus had said they wore parachutes during the first flight, in accordance with company policy. A handrail leads from the cockpit to an escape door that can be jettisoned if the pilots lose control of the plane.

Travel agents in truce with Air India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 25: The truce between the travel agents and the national carrier, Air India, has come as a big relief for the air passengers. The travel agents across the country called off their agitation against Air India and European carriers after getting an assurance from the Air India top brass that their grievances would be looked into.

The agents had not been selling tickets of Air India from April 1 after the airline had announced the commission cut from seven to five percent from May 1. Later other European carriers, Singapore Airlines and Asiana Airlines also decided to cut agent's commission 1 in line with the global practice of cutting distribution costs.

Speaking to this correspondent, Mr Balbir Mayal, President of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) said "travel agents across the country have decided to take back the decision of suspending ticket sales of Air-India and other European Airliners after getting an assurance from the management that our problems pertaining to commission cuts would be considered."

Mr Mayal said "we have received a letter from the Air India management inviting us for discussions on the issue. We are planning to meet them next week to sort out our differences and find an amicable solution, which would avoid loss of business to both the affected parties."

TAAI and TAFI have now accepted the fact that commission cut is here to stay. The associations are hoping that the airlines would accept their proposal to freeze the commissions at 5 per cent for the next 10 years. However, sources informed that the airlines may agree to five years freeze, time enough for the agents to look for alternative means of earnings.

The travel agents, who give hoard of other services such as collecting taxes, getting passport and visa for clients et al, hope to get some fees from the airlines for these services. They also want airlines to rationalize productivity link bonus for the agents.

The strike had little impact on the carriers as they had kept open their reservation offices and selling tickets at "competitive fares". Also large travel companies such as Thomas Cook, Carlson Wagonlit and BTI-SITA had not joined the boycott as they have corporate deals where the client decides which airline they want to fly. "If we don't oblige them then they would go to somebody else," admits an agent.

Consolidators in major markets across the country also did not support he boycott and continued to sell tickets through their army of over 1,000 sub-agents. In fact, most IATA agents also buy tickets from consolidators and, therefore, there was no way to determine that IATA agents were not booking Air India.

The boycott also divided the travel fraternity and brought to the fore rift among the members of TAAI and TAFI (Travel Agents Federation of India) who have been spearheading the agitation. Ashwani Kakkar resigned from the post of Vice-President, TAAI, over the commission issue.

Explaining the rationale behind the cut in commission, Air India Chairman and Managing Director, Mr V Thulasidas, said this has been necessary, as the operating costs have been increasing day by day due to sudden large increases in price of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF). On the other hand, ticket prices were going downwards.

The Air India Commercial Director, Mr V K Verma, said Air India would save Rs 25 crore by way of reducing 2 per cent commission of the agents.

It is also felt that most the agents pass on the commissions to the passengers and only keep half or one per cent commission due to competition. "Then why fight over something which doesn't belong to you," is the rhyme.

It is felt that worldwide except for few countries in Europe, Japan and Sri Lanka airlines have reduced commissions to one of two per cent. The commissions are given by the airlines based on the business that agents generate and there is no uniformity on this. In fact, Air India, British Airways and Virgin have different levels of commissions' ex-London. It is time for travel agents to gear up to new practices in the multi-competitive world and thrash out the issue of commissions with the airline for once and for all.

India, US unshackle skies with landmark pact

NEW DELHI, April 14: India and the US on Thursday signed a landmark agreement allowing unrestricted number of airlines to mount any number of flights to any point in each other's territory. The historic agreement was signed by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and US Transportation Secretary Norman Y Mineta here.

The Union Cabinet, presided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had on Wednesday night given its nod for replacing the 1956 Air Services Agreement with the new one. According to the pact, Air India and other carriers will have additional ports of call other than existing ones like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Newark (New Jersey).

Similarly, American carriers will also be able to have direct operations to additional cities in India. Currently, Indian carriers operate 28 flights a week to the US which has 14 flights.

The new accord also seeks to remove the earlier restriction of code-share rights to any five points in the respective territories of both countries.

It proposes to eliminate all existing restrictions on Fifth Freedom traffic through intermediate points and provides for greater operational flexibility. A special provision relating to safety has been added in the new agreement.

Deadline for AI verdict extended

VANCOUVER, April 14: Canadian prosecutors were told on Wednesday they have until May 13 to decide if they will appeal the acquittal of two men charged with the 1985 Air India bombings, which killed 331 people. Prosecutors told the British Columbia Supreme Court they need more time to review the judge's 572-page verdict of not guilty, issued last month, and rulings he made during the trial, which lasted for 233 days.

Lawyers for defendants Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri did not oppose the request, and the court in Vancouver extended the appeal deadline from this Friday.

A judge last month acquitted Bagri and Malik, saying he did not believe witnesses who said the men admitted to them their role in a plot by Vancouver-based Sikh separatists to bomb two Air India planes as revenge on the Indian government.

One bomb destroyed Flight 182 off the Atlantic coast of Ireland, killing 329 people in history's deadliest bombing of a civilian airliner. The other bomb killed two Tokyo airport workers moving luggage to an Air India jet

India, China opt for open skies policy

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 12: The two most populous nations of the world, India and China, have not only decided to upgrade their strategic, political and economic ties, but have also opened their skies for each other. As the two Prime Ministers, Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Wen Jiabao, made it clear that the two countries were not rivals but partners; they decided to have an open skies policy on air cargo and liberalisation of passenger flights.

In this spirit, the two sides signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to promote air traffic between India and China. It envisages increase in capacity entitlements, more points of call and an increase in the number of intermediary and beyond points. The pact, signed by the Civil Aviation Secretary, Mr Ajay Prasad, and China's Director General Administration of Civil Aviation, Mr Yang Yuanyuan, says designated airlines of both parties are entitled to have unlimited third, fourth and fifth freedom traffic rights in cargo - with permission not only to move cargo traffic between two countries but also to a third country.

Designated airlines of the two countries may also assign two dedicated terminals in each of the two countries, but without cabotage rights - that is the right to carry traffic outside their respectively earmarked territories. The cabotage clause, however, does not apply to airlines designated by India to combine Beijing and Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, or Shanghai and Guangzhou, the pact says. It was also agreed to consider the removal of restrictions of co-terminalise of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou in due course.

The MOU is pursuant to the technical level talks held between the two countries at Beijing on January 23 and bilateral civil aviation consultations held in New Delhi on March 16 and 17 this year.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding, both the countries can designate one or more airlines to operate on the specified routes. The substantial ownership and effective control of the designated airlines shall remain with the government of the country or its nationals.

The airline(s) designated by the Government of India shall be entitled to operate scheduled air services in both directions on the following routes: Any points in India - any 3 intermediate point - any 6 points in China at its discretion - any 3 beyond points with not more than 2 points in one region. The airline(s) designated by the Government of the People's Republic of China shall be entitled to operate scheduled air services in both directions on the following routes: Any points in China - any 3 intermediate points - any 6 points in India at its discretion - any 3 beyond points with not more than 2 points in one region.

The designated airlines of the two countries will each have a capacity of 14 weekly frequencies as of summer season of 2005 and double that for winter that can eventually increase to 42 weekly frequencies by the summer season of 2006. It was also agreed that not more than 21 weekly frequencies might be operated by any designated airlines of one country to any destination point in the territory of the other country.

The designated airlines of both the countries shall now enjoy the fifth freedom traffic rights on the intermediate and/or beyond points specified in Route Schedule for combination services subject to not more than 14 weekly frequencies to be operated by any designated airlines to any point. It was also agreed that the designated airlines of both countries might co-terminalise any two points in its territory.

The memorandum also provides for the simplification of visa procedures for the operating and cabin crew of designated carriers, employment of foreign pilots and use of dry leased aircraft. It also lays down the guidelines for issues such as code-sharing arrangements - pacts that allow a designated carrier to forego its landing rights in another country to a partner airline for a fee.

Charter operations between the two countries will be governed by the charter regulations of the respective countries. Considering the operation needs of airlines to meet market demand combination services and cargo services will be operated with dry leased aircrafts. Both the countries have also agreed on specified code sharing arrangements.

Indian Airlines hikes fares by 12 per cent

NEW DELHI, April 9: State-owned carrier Indian Airlines on Saturday announced a 12 per cent hike in domestic airfares from April 15, prompted by the sharp increase in prices of aviation turbine fuel (ATF). Fares across the board would increase by 12 per cent to factor in the rise in domestic ATF prices from Rs 27,250 to Rs 32,250 a kilolitre from April 1, an airline spokesperson said.

The fares for special discounted schemes like the advance purchase (APEX), promotional fares, positioning flight fares and point-to-point fares too would be revised accordingly. The Delhi-Mumbai fare has been raised from Rs 7,941 to Rs 8,870 while the Delhi-Chennai one-way ticket will increase from Rs 11,816 to Rs 13,210.

The fare from Delhi to Kolkata will be Rs 10,095 against the current Rs 9,036. The Chennai-Kolkata ticket will cost Rs 11,405 instead of Rs 10,206 and the fare from Chennai to Mumbai will increase from Rs 6,416 to Rs 7,160. The fare from Kolkata to Hyderabad will now be Rs 10,940 as against Rs 9,791, and Kolkata-Guwahati will cost Rs 4,430 in place of Rs 3.976. The Mumbai-Bangalore fare was hiked from Rs 5,556 to Rs.6,200, while the Delhi-Pune ticket will be Rs 10,630 instead of Rs 9,511.

The spokesperson said fares for holiday packages and bumper super saver schemes would not be increased now. The raised fares will come into effect for tickets issued or re-issued from April 15. However, confirmed tickets issued before that deadline will be accepted at previous fares. According to the airline, ATF costs make up almost half its total operational costs. Private airlines operating on domestic routes are expected to follow suit to offset the hike in ATF prices.

First-ever non-stop flight between Delhi, NYC

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 7: There is some cheerful news for air travelers. They can now plan to travel non-stop between India and the US, a first on the aviation scene between the two countries. So far one had to hop via London, Paris, Frankfurt, Dubai, Singapore or Hong Kong to travel to the land of opportunities.

Though our very own Maharaja has been toying the idea of launching direct flight from India to the US, but the credit for this initiative has been leaped by Continental Airlines, one of the largest American carriers.

Speaking to this correspondent, Continental's Vice President (Europe, Middle East & Africa) Jim Summerford said the service will cut travel time between New Delhi and New York by at least two hours westbound and by at least two and a half hours eastbound, and will shorten existing journey times between New Delhi and most US mainland cities.

Mr Timothy J Kennedy, Managing Director, Sales and Marketing, said Continental Airlines would launch the first-ever scheduled non-stop flights between New Delhi and New York/Newark effective November 1. With this, New Delhi will become the 25th city in Continental's trans-Atlantic route network, he added.

He said the airline will also provide one-stop connections to almost 150 other cities throughout North, Central and South America, the Caribbean and beyond via Continental's unique New York hub at Newark Liberty International Airport. Justifying the launch of non-stop flight, Kennedy said "our surveys show that the large number of Indian and American business community was keen on flying non-stop."

He said New Delhi-Newark (New Jersey) flights will be operated with a 283-seat Boeing 777 aircraft, carrying 48 passengers in the BusinessFirst cabin and 235 in Economy. "Subject to government approval, flight CO83 will depart New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport daily at 11:30 p.m., arriving at Newark at 4:50 a.m. the next day. The return flight, CO82, will depart New York/Newark daily at 9:05 p.m., arriving at New Delhi at 9:30 p.m. the next day."

Summerford said "flying times will be approximately 15 hours, 50 minutes westbound and 13 hours, 55 minutes eastbound." He said Continental's longest flight is between Newark and Hongkong that takes around 17 and half hours. He said "we will be able to offer Indian trans-Atlantic travelers something none of our competitors can match - award-winning non-stop service to New York, with quick and easy same-airline, same-terminal onward connections to cities throughout the Americas. Our service will also create a more convenient and attractive gateway to India for American visitors."

Continental Airlines is the world's sixth-largest airline with more than 3,000 daily departures throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. The carrier serves 152 domestic and 122 international destinations, more than any other carrier in the world. Nearly 400 additional points are served via SkyTeam alliance airlines, which include Aeromexico, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Korean Air and Northwest Airlines.

Eurocopter offers experts to probe copter crash

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 2: France-based helicopter manufacturer, Eurocopter, has offered services of its experts to help probe the Thursday helicopter accident in which two Haryana Ministers were killed. "Our experts are ready to fly to India and are entirely at the disposable of the investigative agency, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)," said Mr Philippe Harache, Senior Executive Vice President, Eurocopter.

Expressing his deep condolences to the families of those killed the helicopter crash, Mr Harache told this correspondent in an exclusive interview "our experts have already applied for visas to come to India if the DGCA desires."

Mr Harache has been in India since March 29 as part of a high-profile delegation from the Institution for Higher National Defence Studies (IHEDN), Paris. The IHDEN team, which is here on a 12-day study mission, reports directly to the Prime Minister and plays the role of opinion makers in that country. The visiting team consists of over 100 members that include senior civil servants, high-ranking officers and executive staff from various sectors such as economics, research, law, culture, social affairs and the media.

He said the initial newspaper reports suggest that the crash was due to engine problem. However, this can be only confirmed after a through probe. The Eurocopter official also disputed the media reports that have suggested that the ill-fated helicopter fell like a stone. "There is a well-known procedure called 'auto self rotation' by which a pilot can glide the helicopter to a safe landing."

He said the 'auto self rotation' procedure could be done even when the engine is switched off. He informed that every pilot practices this procedure after 10 to 15 hours of flying. He said though the pilot of the ill-fated helicopter was very well qualified; one has to study the circumstances under which the machine crashed.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation immediately ordered an enquiry into the helicopter crash that took place in a village, about 40 km from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. The Joint DGCA, Mr P.K. Chattopadhyay, has been appointed the Inspector of Accidents to head the enquiry.

Noted industrialist and Haryana Minister, Mr O.P. Jindal, and another Haryana Minister, Surinder Singh, son of noted politician Bansi Lal along with the pilot of the aircraft lost their lives in the crash. The helicopter was VTVYJ type single-engine E-120 and was manufactured by Eurocopter. It belonged to India Flying Safe Aviation Ltd of Jindal Group, which had bought the machine in January this year.

The Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, said that the helicopter was just three years old and had clocked over 100 hours of flying time. The pilot, Col PS Chauhan, was also an experienced pilot trained in flying this chopper, he said. He said the helicopter was brought to India only in December and the mandatory 25-hour technical checks were carried out last time just four days ago.

Mr Patel, however, said the full enquiry would only reveal the actual cause of the accident. He refused to give a time frame by which the enquiry would be completed saying it was difficult to forecast, as everything would depend on the condition of the wreckage of the chopper.

Mr Harache said that the ill-fated helicopter was "pretty new". As many as 400 such machines are flying worldwide, including three in India, and these have clogged over 4,000 flying experience. "These copters never had any generic problem either with the engine or any other technical fault of any kind. This aircraft is used by several armed forces like Spain etc as trainer. It is also in service with the police department in the US.

He said over 10,000 helicopters are flying worldwide. "A key application of a copter is to save lives. It is often used to emergency medical evacuations too." In this light, he said that he did not agree with some opposing travel by the single-engine helicopters. "Statistically it only multiplies chances of failure by two and the twin-engine copters give psychological level of comfort the passengers."

After Lok Sabha speaker Balyogi was killed in a chopper crash in 2002, an enquiry committee pointed out that single engine planes are less safe and should be avoided for VIPs. In lot of urban areas of the US only single engine copters fly. If these were not safe then the US aviation authorities would not have allowed such operations. However, Harache added that this was not the norm in Europe where it was mandatory to fly twin-engine aircraft.

Making the difference at Air India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 29: "Winners do not do different things. They do things differently". This statement of motivation guru Shiv Khera is most apt for Mr V Thulasidas, Chairman and Managing Director, Air India, who has been constantly doing things differently to put Maharaja on the top pedestal of greater glory and heights where it once belonged.

To embark on this difficult journey, Thulasidas has laid down a well-crafted strategy and corporate vision to beat the competition. Since he took over as CMD over a year ago, the airline has embarked on an ambitious growth plan whereby new aircraft and new destinations and cities are being gradually added to take the Indian Flag carrier to all nooks and corners of the world.

If the CMD is laying stress on higher productivity and revenue per km, then there is simultaneous emphasis on lowering the cost per km. The vision also envisages higher 'on-time' performance and quicker delivery of baggage with aggressive marketing. He has launched a motivational training programme titled "Making the difference" for the staff.

Says Mr Thulasidas: "Emphasis is to make the staff more competitive. Make them feel that there is need for change in the newer competitive environment. Make them work differently where the focus is the passenger. In short, the message is put your best foot forward and provide service that is the very best in the industry."

The Chairman says: "The idea is to make the staff feel part of the reawakening and rejuvenation programme of Air India." This has certain brought in a sense of awakening among the staff of the airline, admitted an employee. It may be mentioned that the Government has allowed private domestic carriers, Jet Airways and Air Sahara, to fly abroad that has enhanced greater competition among Indian carriers.

Despite difficult situations, Mr Thulasidas proudly informed that the airline continued to make profits year after year. In 2001-02, it showed profit of Rs 15.44 crore; in 2002-03 it went up to Rs 133.86 crore and last year it was Rs 92.33 crore. In spite of rising fuel prices and lost of almost Rs 400 crore of income per annum that accrued to it on account of commercial agreements it had with international airlines, he said the airline would still show profits in the current financial year.

To give better connectivity to passengers, the airline is adding direct flights to expand its network. "This will also help the airline double its market share from present less than 10 per cent," said Mr Thulasidas. This summer schedule would see India-UK sector having 24 flights as compared to 10 last year.

Similarly, the US would have 28 flights as compared to 20 in the previous year. Delhi was connected thrice a week to LA on Monday. The Civil Aviation Secretary, Mr Ajay Prasad, flagged off the flight. With this, the US will have daily flights to all four stations - New York, Newark (New Jersey), Chicago and Los Angeles. "Later this year, we also plan to launch three flights per week from Delhi to San Francisco," he added.

The summer would also see three flights per week from Mumbai to Mauritius. From May 15, the flag carrier will commence flights from Delhi to Toronto via Amritsar and Birmingham. The same day Delhi and Kolkatta will each have three flights per week to Dhaka and the City of Joy will be connected to London too.

For a better connectivity to South East Asia, the Flag carrier is launching direct flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Hong Kong from July 1. The number of flights to Singapore will increase from 15 to 18. This popular family destination with Indians would have direct seven flights per week from Chennai, four each from Delhi and Mumbai, and three from Hyderabad, informs Mr Thulasidas.

Hong Kong, which now has five connections, will have seven with night departures from Delhi and onward convenient night departures to Osaka and Seoul. The sectors will be Delhi-Hong Kong-Osaka thrice a week and Delhi-Hong Kong-Seoul four times a week. Mumbai will have direct flights to Bangkok with onward journey to Hong Kong five times a week from July 1.

From May 1, the Land of Dragon, Shanghai, will have four connections via Bangkok from the present two. "With the increase in trade and tourism between India and China, our ultimate aim is to have direct daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai." Delhi-Bangkok-Tokyo will continue to have two flights per week. From July 1, Jakarta will have four connecting flights via Singapore from present three. Also from July 1, Kuala Lumpur will have three direct flights each from Delhi and Mumbai and seven from Chennai.

Later this year, Maharaja presence would also be felt in the South African cities of Johannesburg and Durban. The next target is Sydney, Australia, to complete the airline's journey to all the Continents. Most of these services are being started with aircraft on dry-lease. The airline's current fleet size is 36. In the next four months it would be dry leasing one Boeing B 777, one Boeing B 747-400 combi and three Airbus A 310s.

The airline also has an ambitious plan to acquire 50 new aircraft to launch additional flights in future. The Air India Board is expected to announce its approval of the aircraft type early next month that would help airline become preferred airline of the world.

AAI to place 25 futuristic airports on Indian radar

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 23: In three years time, India will be dotted with futuristic airports of international standards. To keep up pace with time and boom in air travel, Airports Authority of India (AAI), the guardian of 126 airports in the country, has embarked on an ambitious project of developing 25 non-metro airports as futuristic airports. "AAI is deviating from cement and mortar concept to steel and glass to make terminals of opulence and international standards to catch up with the times," says Mr K Ramalingam, Chairman, AAI.

"To get the best designs, the AAI has called for architectural design competition through global and domestic tender process. The jury is headed by the Secretary Civil Aviation and consists of eminent professionals," he added. In the first phase, Mr Ramalingam informed 10 non-metro airports including Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Guwahati, Goa, Jaipur, Lucknow, Mangalore, Madurai, Udaipur and Trivandrum have been taken up for which Global Technical Advisor (GTA) and Indian Financial Consultant (IFC) have been appointed.

"These consultants are carrying out a detailed Techno Feasibility Study for business and financial plan and model specific to each airport for adoption by AAI." In order to have world-class international terminals, Mr Ramalingam said architectural design competition has been finalized in respect of Ahmedabad, Trivandrum, Jaipur, Trichy, Udaipur and Dibrugarh. Architectural design entry for Terminal Buildings at Lucknow, Bhubaneswar, Madurai and Mangalore are being invited. "The Architectural design consultant and GTA will assist AAI in finalizing the modalities involved for over all development of the airports."

In addition to 10 airports already identified, AAI proposes to take up similar study for other 15 non-metro airports. Expression of Interest (EOI) have been received for appointment of one set of IFC and GTA each for five airports covering these 15 airports for submission of Techno Economic Feasibility report, Business and Financial plan and model specific to each airport for city side development and are under evaluation.

Indian Financial Consultants (IFC) and Global Technical Advisor (GTA) have been appointed for 10 airports of groups of five each. For example, Group A includes Trivandrum, Mangalore, Madurai, Lucknow and Goa and Group B includes Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Guwahati, Udaipur and Jaipur. The Indian Financial Consultants for Group A are UTI Bank Limited and its associates Meghraj Financial Services India Pvt Ltd, Landrum & Brown Worldwide Services Inc, Chesterton Petty Ltd and Chesterton Meghraj Property Consultants Pvt Ltd.

Similarly, the Global Technical Advisor for Group A are three continent airport groups consisting of Airport Consultant Vienna, Inter Continental Consultants and Technocrats Pvt. Ltd New Delhi and the Louis Berger Group Inc USA. The IFC for Group B are Ernst & Young Pvt. Ltd and IDBI Ltd. The GTA for Group B are Pell Frischmann Consultants Ltd UK in association with Frischman Prabhu (India) Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai, Lahmeyer - International GMbh Germany, Lahmeyer International (India) Pvt. Ltd Haryana and Stanley Associates.

The AAI Member, Mr P S Nair, said the consultant's report will clearly indicate the modification, expansion and/or new construction of terminal buildings, land use plans and model with options available to AAI, specific to each airport for undertaking the development works.

In addition to the above, Mr Nair informed several terminal buildings have been designed in house. These include Srinagar, Guwahati, Amritsar, Calicut, Visakhapatnam, Varanasi and Khajuraho airorts.

The AAI Member (Finance), Mr V D V Prasad Rao, said fund are not an issue with the Authority. It has been consistently making profits and paying dividends since its formation on April 1, 1995. On Monday, AAI Chairman Ramalingam presented a cheque of Rs 12 crore as interim divident to the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel.

Mr Prasad Rao said the AAI has paid an interim dividend based on half-yearly results upto September 30, 2004. During the period, AAI earned revenue of Rs 1,278 crore and profits after tax of Rs 60 crore.

AAI pays interim Dividend of Rs 12 cr for 2004-05

NEW DELHI, March 21: The AAI Chairman, Mr K Ramalingam, presented a cheque of Rs 12 crore as interim divident to the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, here on Monday. Lauding the performance of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), Mr Patel said this was for the first time the PSU presented an interim dividend to the Government of India.

The AAI has paid an interim dividend based on half-yearly results upto September 30, 2004. During the period, AAI earned a revenue of Rs 1,278 crore and profits after tax of Rs 60 crore.

Besides the Minister and the Chairman, those who were presented at the handing over ceremony included the Secretary, Civil Aviation, Mr Ajay Prasad, the Joint Secretary, Dr Nazim Zaidi, the AAI Members, Mr V D V Prasad Rao, and Mr P S Nair and other officials from the Ministry and company.

Travel to Gulf for Rs 2,500, Air India Express style

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 22: Here is some more good news for air travelers. The first international budget airline of India takes off on April 29. It's called Air India Express and is a subsidiary of Air India, the national flag carrier. It would commence operations to the Gulf from five Indian cities -- Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthpuram.

And hold and behold. The fares could be as low as 50 per cent of the existing ticket prices. Air India Chairman-cum-Managing Director, Mr V Thulasidas, said "we intend to bring down the fares to as low as 50 per cent of the normal fares. The discounts will start from 25 per cent and could go up to 50 per cent depending the sectors and the season. With this, the cheapest international ticket one-way could come for as low as Rs. 2,500."

Mr Thulasidas said "unlike Air India, the new budget airline will keep only the required necessary staff. We intend to outsource many other activities like ground handling to another subsidiary. This will help us keep down the costs." He expressed confidence that Air India Express would show profits from the very first year. "We have done our cost benefit analysis. The airline will result in profits as we are keeping the costs to the bare minimum."

Mr Thulasidas said Air India Express will begin operations with three leased Boeing 737-800 aircraft in all economy class 181-seat configurations and will lease four more aircraft between January and April next year. With three aircraft at the time of launch, the airline will get underway by operating 35 flights per week. These flights will be operated to four stations in the Gulf/Middle East including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Salalah from five Indian cities.

In the second phase beginning January next year, he said AI Express would connect Kuwait, Bahrain and Doha. He said the budget airline would also connect Singapore and Kuala Lumpur through Chennai and Kolkata at affordable fares. It would also launch flights to Bangkok and Jakarta in the months to come.

Mr Bhargava, Director (PR), said "all the flights will be operated on a Quick Turn-Around basis. As more aircraft are inducted, the number of destinations served will increase."

Once AI Express stabilizes its operations in the Gulf, Mr Thulasidas said the parent company, Air India, would withdraw from these sectors to make room for its subsidiary and to avoid unhealthy competition. Air India would then concentrate and increase its operations on other international sectors. It may be mention that the Gulf is one of the highest revenue earners for Air India.

Besides keeping the aircraft-staff ration low, the Chairman said "Air-India Express will sell its inventory over the Internet, unlike the traditional airlines which allow sales through the Global Distribution Systems. Passengers will have the option of buying a ticket by accessing the Air-India Express website, www.airindiaexpress.in, which is extremely user-friendly. All that a passenger will need to do is to log on, check the schedule, make a booking and pay through credit card."

He said passengers would also have the facility of purchasing their tickets through travel agents or from the Air-India Express offices. They would, however, be required to pay a service or transaction fee of Rs 125 per sector, in addition to the applicable fare and taxes. On completion of the sale, he said "the passenger will be issued an itinerary receipt instead of the conventional airline ticket. All bookings, fare quotes, refunds, change of bookings and modifications in the itinerary are totally automated and technologically driven."

To mark the launch of the airline, the Secretary, Civil Aviation, Mr Ajay Prasad, handed over the first e-ticket to the passenger, Beeran Harris, travelling on Delhi-Abu Dhabi-Delhi sector. The round trip ticket, priced at Rs. 6,632, was booked at a gala launch ceremony here through the Internet on Friday.

In his address, Mr Prasad said air travel in India had grown by 25 per cent over the past two years and constraints on time and limitations on budget have given rise to no-frills, low cost airlines across Europe and Southeast Asia. The Secretary said the budget carrier would purchase 18 new Boeing 737-800 aircraft in due course to offer more regional connections. "These new aircraft are likely to join the AI Express fleet from the later part of 2006," he added.


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