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Air Arabia starts daily flights from Sharjah to Mumbai

SHARJAH, March 26: Air Arabia, one of the UAE's national airlines, on Saturday started its daily flights from Sharjah to Mumbai A one-way ticket from Sharjah to Mumbai starts from Rs 3000 excluding government taxes and surcharges. Fares will be at least 15-20 per cent lower than other airlines.

"I would like to thank the Indian government and civil aviation authorities for their role in facilitating our operations and their invaluable cooperation in making this possible," Air Arabia CEO Adel Ali said. This latest destination has increased the Air Arabia's reach to 12 countries and 16 destinations within the West Asia, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

Crescent Air Cargo's plans

CHENNAI, March 22: Crescent Air Cargo Services is planning to launch dedicated cargo airline services. Capt Deepak Parasuraman, Managing Director, said the company would operate non-scheduled air cargo services in key domestic sectors connecting major metros. The airline had already taken possession of one Fokker F 50 aircraft of the three aircraft it had obtained on outright purchase basis, Capt. Parusaraman said. Besides the company would be buying two more aircraft on long-term lease.

The airline had tied up with Malaysian Airlines for getting assistance on a whole time basis for flight operations and training of its crew. For engineering support, it had entered into an arrangement with Fokker Services Asia, Singapore, the managing Director said.

Boeing confident of major orders from India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: Indian aviation is experiencing a very exciting time in its history. The positive policy changes introduced by the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, and a shift in preference for air travel in the past year has build up great optimism for a revolution in Indian civil aviation in the next few years. This has resulted in the public and private airlines going for a quick expansion of their fleets.

The UPA Government has given its nod to the public sector carriers, Air India and Indian Airlines, to expand their fleet. Air India plans to acquire 50 new aircraft and Indian Airlines is to dry lease 12 wide-bodied aircraft for its international operations beginning next winter. Indian Airlines is also contemplating adding more planes to operate on short-haul and regional routes.

These proposed orders are in addition to Air India deciding to acquire 18 Boeing 737-800s for use by its low-cost subsidiary, Air India Express, that is to be launched in April this year and Indian Airlines decision to acquire 43 Airbus A320s. Both the orders are awaiting final nod from the Government.

Air India's new orders would comprise ultra-long range aircraft, medium capacity long-range 350-seater planes and medium capacity long-range 250-seaters. The airline has shortlisted three types of long-range aircraft -- the medium capacity Airbus 340-500 or Boeing 777-200 LR, the 350-seat Airbus 340-600 or Boeing 777-300 ER, and the 250-seat Airbus 330-200 or Boeing 787.

The Senior Vice President Sales, Boeing, Dr Dinesh Keskar, is bullish on the India market and expressed confident that Boeing would capture the proposed orders of 62 new aircraft from Air India and Indian Airlines. He said Boeing relationship with Air India goes back to 1960 when it received the first Boeing 707 and the airline introduced commercial jet travel in Asia.

Dr Keskar informed that the Boeing 737 has been the jetliner of choice for new domestic operators since India's privatization of the airline industry. "Jet Airways and Air Sahara are prime examples of successful new airlines that have chosen to operate Boeing 737 models." He said Indian Government's decision to allow private domestic carriers to fly international destination, till now reserved for State-owned airlines, has further heated the international aircraft market.

"At Boeing, we are working with State-owned and private carriers to provide the all-new 787 Dreamliner and the 777-200ER, 777-200LR and 777-300ER. These efficient, long-range twinjets are a perfect solution to India's domestic and international passenger market requirements," said Keskar. "Boeing's family of products is clearly positioned to provide superior economics for India's aviation market."

He informed that Air India took the delivery of the first of the three Boeing 737-800 aircraft from the company's airfield in Seattle recently. This all-economy class configuration 181-seater aircraft taken on a leased arrangement paves the way for its low cost airline, the Air India Express (AIE), from April-end. AIE would be run by AI Charters Limited, a subsidiary company of Air India.

Air India added the first of three new generations long range Boeing 777 to its fleet in January and the aircraft was deployed on the Mumbai-London sector. The Boeing 777 series was being named after Indian ragas. The first aircraft has been christened Megh Malhaar, a raga that depicts the magic of rains.

The plane taken on lease has an operating range of 9,600 to 11,200 km and is equipped with highly integrated digital avionics controlled by software. With the new addition, Air-India now has a fleet of 35 aircraft. Two more such aircraft will be inducted by March 2005. The Boeing 777 aircraft has a capacity of 276 seats - 12 first class, 49 executive class and 215 economy class.

Another feather was added to Boeing's cap when at the recently concluded air show in Bangalore, India's newest airline, SpiceJet, announced that it has ordered up to 20 Boeing Next-Generation 737-800 airplanes at a price tag of US $ 1.2 billion. SpiceJet placed a firm order for 10 airplanes with an option for ten more. First delivery is scheduled for 2006.

Just prior to the Boeing 737-800 aircraft order, SpiceJet had been known as Royal Airways. Before it became Royal Airways, the company was called Modiluft, a carrier that discontinued operations many years ago. "Boeing's willingness to work closely with us to meet all of our needs is an example of Boeing's superb commitment to its customers," said SpiceJet Board Director Bhulo Kansagra. "The superior operating economics of the Next-Generation 737 are especially important in light of continued rising fuels costs." Delhi-based SpiceJet is expected to begin service in May with three leased Boeing 737-800s.

Dr Keskar said the low-cost carrier's order was the first major business transaction to be done at Aero India in Bangalore. "It is gratifying to partner with SpiceJet to help them achieve profitability and provide reliable and comfortable service," he said. "The 737, especially the Next-Generation 737, has played an integral role in Indian aviation."

The Boeing 737-800 order to SpiceJet is seen as a strategic move by the US manufacturer, which is competing head-to-head with Europe's Airbus to sell aircraft in that market. Air Deccan and Kingfisher, two Indian private airlines, had already placed orders for Airbus' A320s. According to Airbus spokesperson, Mr David Velupillai, the European aircraft manufacturer could not fill an order for the low-cost carrier, SpiceJet, at this time.

Travel agents declare war on Air India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI March 12: The travel agents have declared a war on Air India for its proposal to reduce agency commissions from the current level of 7 per cent to 5 per cent. In a joint move showcasing solidarity, the three biggest travel associations -- the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) and Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) and Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) -- minced no words to ask Air India to refrain from such a move.

The leaders of the three association, Mr Balbir Mayal, President, TAAI, Mr Zakkir Ahmed, President, TAFI, and Maj Murli Dhar, Senior Vice President, IATO, said "we will suspend sale of tickets of Air India if the commission is reduced." Although Air India has not sent any formal letter to the largest association, TAAI, or TAFI, it is learnt that the public sector airline has postponed its decision to cut the commissions from April 1 to May 1 to give more time to the travel agents to adjust.

But industry watchers are surprised at Air India's confrontist move that has come at a time when it is the only airline in the country that has posted operating losses in the fiscal 2003-04. While five of the six carriers -- Indian Airlines, Alliance Air, Jet Airways, Air Sahara and Air Deccan --- ended the year with operational profits, Air India reported an operational loss of Rs 115.45 crore last fiscal, according to latest statistics with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

It may be mentioned that travel agents are a force to reckon with as they do over 95 per cent of airline bookings, which account for sale of about Rs 20,000 crore annually.

Mr Jagdeep Rikhy, Managing Director, Inter Skylinks, said that about six month ago Star Alliance led by Lufthansa had tried to bypass the travel agents and had unilaterally announced cuts in commission to 5 per cent. "The travel agents hit the leader and suspended sale of Lufthansa tickets. Despite all the fire fighting like opening its own call centers and ticket distribution centers, Lufthansa, in less than a week, withdrew its order and restored 7 per cent commission to travel agents unconditionally."

Explaining the case for higher commissions, Mr Balbir Mayal said unlike foreign countries a travel agent in India gives slew of services and benefits to the customers. He said such services include impartial search, advice, consulting and support. It also includes best value for money propositions for flights, hotels and car rentals. Mr Mayal said the travel agents also extend credit to consumers to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore leading to increased sales for the airlines. "We employ over 4 lakh staff in sales and operation activities on behalf the airlines. If commissions are cut, it will result in loss of over 2 lakh jobs," he added.

Justifying the case for higher commissions, Mr Zakkir Ahmed pointed out that travel agents invest crores of rupees in various assets such as sales outlets and offices across the country, computers, global distribution systems, cars and coaches, and call centers and meet and greet booths. "We also provide timely passport and visa services for customers to ensure that every airline seat is utilized on the date of booking. We also undertake all the risks associated with payments collected through credit card and cheques and collection of cash and ensuring its delivery to the airlines," said Mr Ahmed.

He said agents handle around 100 million queries on annual basis resulting in 25 million transactions to the benefit of the airlines and the travel related industry. The TAFI President said agents also assist airlines in curbing terror and security hazards by "knowing the customers" in much more intimate fashion than impersonal bookings engines and mechanisms.

Mr Mayal pointed out that agents were already suffering loss in commission in absolute terms with the international airfares dropping by over 50 per cent in the past couple of years. For example, an economy class Delhi-London ticket has come down to Rs 15,000 from Rs 50,000. Showing solidarity with the airlines, the TAAI President said the agent community had voluntarily accepted and implemented a reduction in commission from 9 per cent to 7 per cent couple of years.

At that time the differential amount of Rs 350 crore was immediately converted and transferred back to the headquarters of the foreign airlines and has been lost to the country every year thereafter in spite of the same services being demanded and provided by the travel agent community, he said. Mr Mayal firmly said "any further reduction on commission is completely unwarranted and untenable."

He said commission cut would also aid unwarranted market domination by major international airlines and the potential cartelisation of fares, negatively impacting the cause of the Indian travel customer. It is learnt that major international carriers including Lufthansa and British Airways are in favour of eliminating agency commission. However, these carriers are waiting for the outcome of the agent-Air India confrontation.

Budget to help breath life into Aviation Inc

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: The higher allocation for the Civil Aviation Ministry, including Indian Airlines and Air India, and keeping in abeyance the withholding tax on lease rentals by another six months are some of the highlights of the Finance Minister, Mr P Chidambaram's Union Budget for the year 2005-2006.

The Finance Minister has enhanced allocation to the Civil Aviation Ministry by 62 per cent from Rs 1,473.1 crore in the current fiscal to Rs 2,379.3 crore in the next fiscal. The allocation for Indian Airlines alone has been increased by almost four times, from Rs 215.62 crore to Rs 911.73 crore.

The substantial increase in allocation would help the public-sector Indian Airlines to meet the expenditure on acquiring 43 new Airbus A-320 aircraft, price negotiations for which are now in an advanced stage. Similarly, funds have also been marked for Air-India so that Maharaja could also go ahead with its fleet acquisition plan.

This allocation for public enterprises also includes expenditures planned by Airports Authority of India (AAI) for upgrading Amritsar Airport and providing operational improvements in various airports in the northeastern region, including Sikkim, besides crucial areas like Jammu Kashmir, Leh and Lakshadweep.

The Budget proposal to treat aviation turbine fuel (ATF) as deemed export for international operations of designated Indian carriers is likely to provide a level playing field to the public sector and private carriers such as Jet Airways and Air Sahara which are scheduled to begin flying abroad from April.

Welcoming the move to declare ATF as deemed export for international operations, the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, hoped that the Finance Minister sould take further steps to make ATF cheaper even for domestic operations.

The Finance Minister proposed amending the Central Sales Tax Act, 1956, to declare the sale of ATF to a designated Indian carrier for its global operations as deemed to have taken place in the course of the export of goods out of India, enabling them to purchase the fuel without paying the CST. The ATF cost now accounts for over one-third of the total cost of an air ticket in the domestic sector.

The Emirates Airlines vice-president for India, Abdulla Nasser Abdulla Hussain, described the budget proposal on ATF as a move in the "right direction." He said the move to slash import duty on crude oil and listed fuel products would reduce direct costs for airlines and operators which should benefit the average passenger, if passed on."

Mr Ankur Bhatia, Managing Director, Amadeus India Subcontinent, said "overall, this is definitely a good budget for the Indian economy. But specifically for the Indian travel and tourism sector, the concerns in terms of accelerating airport modernization plans and reduction of sales tax on ATF have not been addressed adequately.

Since according to domestic airlines estimates ATF accounts for 25-30 per cent of their costs today - which inflates domestic airfares considerably - the much anticipated reduction in ATF prices would have served as a catalyst for bringing down prices and thereby boosting domestic travel, he said.

Additionally with the growth Indian Aviation has seen in the last 18 months averaging nearly 20 per cent, there is a lot of pressure on the current infrastructure - which if not heeded to immediately will become a bottle neck for further growth.

However, Mr Bhatia said "the government's decision to exempt withholding tax (WHT) on leasing of aircraft or aircraft engines from foreign companies, following request from Air India and Indian Airlines is definitely a welcome move for the Indian aviation industry."

It is not only Indian Airlines and Air India but also Jet, Sahara and Air Deccan and soon to be launched Kingfisher, SpiceJet and AirOne which have heaved a sigh of relief by the suspension of the lease tax as it reduces potential burden in a fiercely-competitive environment where prices are under pressure and aircraft difficult and expensive to lease. In the current year, it is estimated that the domestic airlines would lease around 35 to 40 aircraft.

Air Deccan Managing Director, Capt Gopinath, said the suspension of the tax would give a fresh lease of life to new carriers who would opt for leasing route to acquire new aircraft. "The new players have actually challenged the status quo and forced air fares down and the Finance Minister's decision will help in keeping costs under control by making leasing viable," he said.

The incidence of lease tax for instance would have forced the operator to shell out about US$ 450,000 on a mid-size plane which would have otherwise attracted a monthly lease rental of US $ 300,000.

The Air India Managing Director, Mr V Thulasidas, said Air India saved aound US $ 8.6 million in tax liability on the lease of 13 aircraft as lease rental is treated a royalty. The airline is expected to make similar savings in the coming year. Similarly, its soon to be launched low-cost airline, AI Express, would benefit from the suspension of the tax by checking the costs.

These new Budget initiatives are expected to keep the airfares to cruise at their present altitude. In fact, the industry feels that entry of more aircraft would benefit air travelers as the prices of air tickets would further slash and passengers would get better product and better flying experience in the days to come.

Jet IPO oversubscribed 13.35 times

NEW DELHI, Feb 25:The initial public offering of Naresh Goyal promoted Jet Airways has been oversubscribed 13.35 times, according to the data available on the NSE website. According to the data, cumulative bids were received for a total of 23.05 crore shares as against the issue size of 1.72 crore. The maximum bids (21.81 crore shares) were received at the higher end of the price at Rs 1,125 while a total of 93.14 lakh shares were bid for at the cut-off price.

The IPO, which opened on February 18 for bidding was oversubscribed within 15 minutes of opening on the first day itself. Deutsche Equities India Pvt. Limited, HSBC Securities & Capital Markets (India) Private Limited, UBS Securities India Pvt. Limited, Citigroup Global Markets India Pvt. Limited, DSP Merrill Lynch Limited and Kotak Mahindra Capital Company Limited were the lead managers to the issue.

Air Deccan's launches Delhi -Jammu flight

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 23: Air Deccan, India's first and fastest growing low cost carrier, has connected Delhi to Jammu from Wednesday. The airline's Managing Director, Capt Gopinath, said "our fares will be dynamic and will be a function of demand and supply on any given route, therefore an afternoon flight maybe cheaper than a morning or evening service. On lines of Western zero- frill carriers like Ryan Air and Easy Jet, Air Deccan has introduced dynamic pricing on its fares, here the meter starts ticking at just Rs 500 for the early buyers, and climbs upto 45 per cent of the regular airline fare at the top end of the spectrum." Total number of Air Deccan tickets sold at Rs 500 is 65,000.

He said "it is our vision to build a world class Airline that will 'empower every Indian to fly'. Air Deccan does so by providing lowest airfares and connecting unconnected cities. After connecting close to 28 airports, Jammu will be our 28th destination." The flight would leave Delhi for Jammu at 7.50 am and return from Jammu at 10.25 am. Capt Gopinath said the Jammu flight would be a boom for pilgrims going to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. "We already have our helicopters based at Katra, near Jammu , flying close to 400 piligrims visitng Mata Vaishno Devi a day. We see a huge potential due to the traffic that exists between Delhi and Jammu and our aggressive pricing structure. The flights would add value to the piligirms already utilizing us. If there is adequate demand we wil introduce an evening flight too."

Since its inception in August 2003, Air Deccan has carried over 9,00,000 passengers. It has close to 100 flights a day with a fleet size of three Airbus 320s (180 seater) and nine ATR 42 (48 seater). The airline has ordered 60 brand new aircrafts (30 Airbus A 320 and 30 ATR 72-500) Air Deccan has many first to its credit. Air Deccan was the first airline to introduce 100 per cent web enabled reservation system with e-ticketing and 24 hour multi lingual call centre. "We also have an option of 'Hold and Pay' wherein the passengers can book the tickets through the call centre and make payments at one of the authorized agents or at our airport counter, informed Vijaya Menon, Head of the Corporate Communication, Air Deccan. She said the call centre number for Jammu is 1600 44 7008 and for the rest of India is 39008888.

India, Vietnam direct flights this year

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 8: The historic political and economic friendly ties between India and Vietnam are auguring well for the aviation and tourism sector. The two countries are likely to get connected with direct flights sometime later this year. This became evident during the recent visit of Mr Pham Vu Hien, Deputy General Director, Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam.

During his stay here, Mr Pham had talks with the officials from the government and private airlines. In order to boost tourism and trade between the two countries, he offered any Indian carrier to fly to Vietnam picking up traffic from Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Indian private carriers, Jet Airways and Air Sahara, which are hoping to commence flights to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia soon, are considering the Vietnamese offer.

The Vietnam Ambassador, Mr Tran Trong Khanh, said that the direct flight would help boost tourism and expand economic cooperation between the two friendly nations. At present the number of Indians visiting Vietnam is small. But it would definitely get boost due to direct air flights. In 1999, the number of Indians who visited Vietnam was 4,600 and current figure stands around modest 7,000.

The Ambassador said Vietnam, which was scheduled to become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this year, had recorded a GDP growth of over 7 per cent successively for the past few years. With a population of 81 million and an environment of political stability and peace "recognised by the world", Vietnam offered enormous scope for cooperation in trade, investment and tourism, he said.

To tap the Indian market effectively, the Ambassador said the Vietnam Tourism Promotion Board is conducting a survey in India to chalk out a marketing plan for the market.

On its part, Mr Pham indicated that Pacific Airlines, one of the Vietnamese air carriers, could commence operations to India after it expands its fleet. Pacific Airlines is the first share holding company in Vietnam aviation industry under the new innovation of the government. At present, Pacific has a fleet of two Airbus A-321s, one Airbus A-320, one Airbus A-310 and one McDonnell Douglas MD-82 and one Boeing 737- 800.

It provides the domestic services to most important cities alongside the country. In international market, it was the first airline to connect Vietnam and Taiwan, a big hub in Asia. It also has services to both Taipei and Kaohsiung with the reasonable frequencies. To develop the tourist market to the central of Vietnam, Pacific Airlines was the first and the only carrier to fly to Hong Kong from Danang city, the destination of Vietnamese culture, tradition and character. Pacific also offers seasonal charter flights to some points in South East Asia and North Asia and was ready to impulse them to the scheduled services at the right time.

The country's national carrier is Vietnam Airlines that serves 15 domestic locations and 22 major international cities. It has a fleet of 36 aircraft.

Mr Pham informed that as many as 28 airlines operate on 72 international routes to and from Vietnam and Vietnamese air carriers operate on 26 domestic routes. "The civil aviation in Vietnam has increased at the rate of 15 to 17 per cent on average during the last decade," he said.

By the end of 2004, he said the total volume of passengers carried by the Vietnamese and foreign air carriers was 8.7 million that was an increase of 31 per cent compared with 2003 and 212,000 tonnes of cargo were transported showing an increase of 13.8 per cent over the previous year. Of this, 5.4 million passengers and 159,000 tonnes of cargo were for international market. This was an increase of 36 per cent and 15 per cent respectively as compared to the year 2003.

The total volume of passengers carried by the Vietnamese air carriers was about 5.8 million showing an increase of 30 per cent compared with 2003. The market share of Vietnamese carriers accounted for 46 per cent in terms of passengers and 32 per cent in terms of cargo on international routes.

In 2004, Mr Pham Vu Hien said the throughput passenger yield at the airports throughout the country was over 12 million showing an increase of 30 per cent as compared to last year. Of this 5.5 were foreign passengers. In the current year, he said the Vietnamese and foreign airlines are expected to carry 10 million passengers, of which 6.5 million would be foreigners.

He said Vietnamese Government has paid special attention to airport infrastructure development with a view to serving to the best possible the air transport operation. There are 22 airports, including three international airports that are located in Northern, Central and Southern region of the country.

During recent years, Vietnam has intensified investment into airports by improving and construction of taxiways, aprons, and passenger terminals. "Many projects have been implemented or being implemented at airports, aiming at enhancing their capability to accommodate flights and increase the terminals' capacity, especially at the three international airports of Noi Bai, Tan Son Nhat, Da Nang and other local airports used for international services."

Mr Pham said the international airports reflect world standards and have a total capacity of 11 million passengers per year. He said Vietnam has been pursuing flexible air transport policy in order to encourage air carriers operating to Vietnam. "With her location on the center of aviation link among southeast Asian countries, modern airport infrastructure and stable socio-political situation, Vietnam has become and continues to become an attractive and safe destination for all air carriers, including the Indian ones," said Mr Pham.

Airbus Industrie sets eye on India for selling A-380

NEW DELHI, Feb 7: Airbus Industrie is setting its eye on India for selling its brand new, most modern and spacious A-380 aircraft. "With the opening up of skies by the Government, Indian private and public airlines would be looking for bigger aircraft for long haul. Airbus A-330s and A-340s would be best suited for them," according to Mr David Velupillai, Regional Press Advisor of Airbus. He added at Indian airlines could also consider buying A-380s in the long run.

Mr Velupillai said the A-330s and A-340s were the best suited for Air India, which is also in need of more planes to cater to increasing number of destinations. Referring to the new A-380 variety, he said the aircraft had much more space than the Boeing 747 series. "It can land in any airport where 747s are capable of landing.

"At present in India, only Delhi and Mumbai airports are capable of handling these two aircraft by parking them in a remote bay with the passengers being ferried in a bus," he said.

To a question about the company's talks for selling or leasing aircraft to Indian Airlines, he said "we are in discussion with Indian Airlines and they need the aircraft very badly. We are confident that we have an aircraft which could be the best for Indian Airlines," he said while responding to a question. Asked about the firming up of aircraft leasing market, Velupilli accepted that the aviation market is becoming stronger after a brief hangover of 9/11.

Deccan's chopper service to Vaishno Devi a great hit

By Sushma Arora

KATRA (Jammu and Kashmir), Jan 29: A pilgrimage to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine has become quick and comfortable, thanks to reliable helicopter service provided by Deccan Aviation from Katra to Sanji Chhat. In its over two-year uninterrupted service, Deccan has made the pilgrimage possible for those devotees who could not have darshans either due to old-age and infirmity or lack of time.

"Our chopper service is popular with all the age groups. But, of course, the aged and businessmen and the non-resident Indians (NRIs) who are hard pressed for time make use of our package that includes darshans and return to the base the same day," said Major Yoginder Kandhari, Chief of the helicopter operations at Katra in Jammu and Kashmir.

Ashwani Narula, a businessman from Delhi, was in concurrence with sentiments of Major Kandhari. "I have been wanting to visit the shrine and pay obeisance for a long time but could not do so for lack of time. But thanks to the Deccan Aviation's chopper service, I have had Mata Vaishno Devi's darshans," said Ashwani. Complimenting Deccan Aviation, he said "the staff is courteous and assists the passengers in having a quick and orderly darshans." He said, "For me pilgrimage was a comfortable and memorable one."

Nine-year-old Noyanika, who as a child was thrilled with the additional advantage of a chopper ride, echoed similar sentiments. A visually thrilled Noyanika said she took the helicopter, as she had to return to school on Monday. "I, along with my parents, made best use of the weekend to have darshans of Mata Vaishno Devi, which I have been wanting to do for a long time." Noyanika said she walked the three-km stretch from Sanji Chhat to Mata Vaishno Devi Darbar but took a pony ride on return.

Major Kandhari informed that Deccan Aviation was invited by the Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to commence its Katra - Sanji chhat operations in November 2002. "The service has been running uninterrupted for over two years to the delight and satisfaction of thousands of devotees."

He said the company has performed with admirable professionalism towards its commitment to provide a service to match the very best. "We have also been meeting the highest flight safety standards by following rigorous maintenance and operations of the highest order to match the trust of people. For this we have picked up the very best pilots and engineers from the industry."

In its first year of operation ending November 2003, Major Kandhari said "Deccan carried 27,935 devotees. This figure jumped to 38,683 in the second year ending November 2004 showing a growth of 38.48 per cent. With a view to further enhance its carrying capacity the company replaced its Bell 206 L 3 with two state of the art and more effective Bell 407 helicopters. It is visualized that in current year there will be further increase in passenger traffic by 25 per cent."

At the outset, he said Deccan Aviation had to contend with indefinite passenger response as earlier attempts by other operators had failed to establish credibility as a dependable and worthwhile means of visiting the shrine. "Deccan Aviation meticulously analyzed the follies of the past and made quick amends to arrive at an effective customer friendly formula, which to date is working to the entire satisfaction of all concerned."

The erstwhile passenger waiting area has been transformed into a modern, air-conditioned waiting lounge. The ticketing and reservation system has been streamlined to near perfection with the appointment of a vast, countrywide network of agents. "Today you can book your pilgrimage from the comforts of your home, on the Internet," informed Major Kandhari.

Deccan has also introduced a number of packages in conjunction with some of the best hotel properties in Jammu and Katra. In addition, the company has also formalized a seamless package with the Shrine Board that covers the entire ambit of requirements of the Yatris, including air bookings, to and from Jammu, hotel accommodation, helicopter flight to the shrine helipad and return, night stay at the shrine and special darshan at the shrine.

To further improve the infrastructure at Katra Heliport, Deccan Aviation, under the aegis of the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, is working on a project of constructing a hangar for servicing and maintenance of the helicopters. "This facility will obviate the requirement of ferrying the helicopters to Delhi for their periodic maintenance," said Major Kandhari.

Mr Rohit Kansal, Additional CEO of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, said "our endeavor is to provide all level of facilities to the devotees to make his pilgrimage comfortable and memorable one. The helicopter service is an endeavor towards that."

Deccan Aviation is India's largest and most versatile helicopter charter operator in the private sector with a fleet of nine helicopters and two fixed wing aircraft. Besides having a nationwide presence with six bases, Deccan is also the first Indian aviation company to have an ongoing joint venture overseas, in Sri Lanka.

Deccan aircraft have been and are currently deployed to perform an array of multifarious tasks from conveyance of political and corporate VIPs, evacuation of casualties, geophysical surveys, heliskiing, aerial photography, flower dropping at religious functions, tourism to conveyance of pilgrims to places of religious interest.

India gets ready to receive world's largest plane A380

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 20: India is getting ready to receive the world's largest aircraft, Airbus A380, when it takes to the skies in the middle of next year. Over 60 airports in the world, including four Indian metropolises, are busy with preparations to receive the biggest bird made by man.

"The runways at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata airports will be modified to be able to handle 550-seater Airbus A380. Similarly, modifications to taxiways will be undertaken to cater for the wider wheel-base of the aircraft," said Mr K Ramalingam, Chairman of the Airports Authority of India. The AAI maintains and operates 126 airports in the country.

Mr Ramalingam informed that adequate fillets would be provided on the turning points of the taxiways to cater to these widened wheelbases. "Parking stands are being provided at all the four metro airports to provide for the A380 that has a wing span of 80 meters." The AAI Chairman said "few clearances between runways and taxiways, which are mandatory, will be provided to be able to handle Airbus A380 at these airports."

With its larger wingspan giving greater lift and its new-generation engines, the A380 can take off and land in less distance than other large aircraft. This makes it capable of using existing runways.

Major world hubs, which have already geared up to take the A380, include San Francisco and Singapore. Besides the Indian metros, others that would be ready in 2006 include Sydney, London's Heathrow, New York's John F Kennedy International, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Frankfurt.

The super jumbo's entry into service next year is a challenge to already stretched airport infrastructure. Research group Frost & Sullivan says Airbus' biggest problem isn't the demand for the super jumbo, which it sees as potentially even higher than Airbus' own estimates. ``This is all very nice, but if you don't have airports that can handle the A380 it won't work,'' said Johan Orsingher, a senior consultant with the group.

London's Heathrow airport says it is spending over US $800 millions (euro 640 millions), providing everything from double-decker passenger ramps to enlarged baggage conveyors capable of processing 555 passengers on one flight. Other airports are spending billions more on similar improvements, but there is concern that some may not be ready in time.

Even Paris Charles de Gaulle, home to A380 customer Air France, has just two A380-ready gates. Operator Aeroports de Paris insists its airport will be ready for the plane despite last year's partial collapse of the new terminal where they are both situated. Airports in the United States are also thought to be behind, although Orsingher said major airports in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta would have no choice but to catch up quickly.

``We've put some friendly pressure on two or three airport authorities that we consider to be a bit behind,'' Forgeard told France's La Tribune newspaper.

The delay in some of the major airports worldwide has forced Virgin Atlantic that has ordered six A380s with options for a further six, worth a total of $3 billion to postpone acquisition of the super jumbos to later date. Virgin was originally scheduled to take delivery of the aircraft in 2006 but delayed the plans due to concerns that some major airports, particularly Los Angeles, would not be ready to accommodate the plane in time, as well as delays in sourcing components for some design innovations. The first aircraft is scheduled for delivery in May 2008, according to the airline's half-owner Richard Branson.

Branson said Virgin Atlantic was now confidant that airports were prepared and suggested the company would take up its options for a further six planes sooner rather than later. "The chances are we are going to want more than six," he said.

How the plane's extra space is used will be left up to airlines, whose A380 cabin designs have remained closely guarded. In the future, low-cost carriers could operate the A380 with a single economy class configuration accommodating as many as 800 passengers.

Virgin's Branson said his airline would offer private double beds for first-class passengers and gambling area offering blackjack and roulette for both economy and business class passengers. Besides, he said the super jumbos would have gyms and beauty parlours. He said "since you have gaming and you have private double beds maybe there are two ways of getting lucky on a Virgin plane." Virgin Atlantic, which already offers seats that convert into double beds on some of its existing aircraft, plans to install 35 private double beds on each A380.

The Chairman of Dubai-based carrier Emirates, which is so far the largest A380 customer with 45 orders, said the plane was a ``key element in our future growth'' and offers ``the widest cabin of any aircraft in the world.'' ``It provides lower seat-mile costs and carries more passengers further and consumes less fuel than its competitors,'' Sheikh Ahmed bin Saee Al Maktoum, said.

Chew Choon Seng, CEO of Singapore Airlines, said the A380 would increase passenger and cargo capacities ``without increasing aircraft movements and without congesting the skies and adding to congestion on airport taxiways and runways.'' Singapore Airlines will begin using the plane for services to London and Sydney when it becomes the first carrier to carry commercial passengers aboard the A380 in 2006, he said.

Airbus hopes to sell 750 of these jumbos to airlines operating services between the busiest airports, mainly in Asia, which serve as hubs, or stopovers between connecting flights.

Airbus unveils world's largest aircraft

By Deepak Arora

TOULOUSE (France), Jan 18: Amidst pomp and show, the European aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, on Tuesday unveiled the world's largest aircraft referred to as the super jumbo A 380. The double-decked aircraft that could seat from 500 to 840 passengers is expected to revolutionize long-haul flying.

The super jumbo has an 80-meter (262-foot) wingspan and a tail as tall as a seven-story building. It cost euro10 billions (US$13 billions) to develop. In a three-class cabin layout, the A380 will seat 33 per cent more passengers than Boeing's veteran 747 and offers 49 percent more floor space -- leaving additional room for features such as on-board shops, bars, casinos or even nurseries.

The French President, Mr Jacques Chirac, the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, the German Chancellor, Mr Gerhard Schroeder,and the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero along with 5,000 guests from the world's aviation sector and media including and CEOs from the 14 airlines and freight companies that have so far ordered the A380 attended the elaborate unveiling at company headquarters in Toulouse, southern France.

"Under the name Airbus, Europe has written one of the most beautiful pages in its history," Airbus chief Noel Forgeard told the packed hall. "In this great aircraft, there is a mixture of determination and of dreams, which is, and always has been, at the heart of the wealth and splendid complexity of our European culture," he said, standing in front of the plane.

The A380 has wingspan of 80 metres (262 feet), overall length of 73 metres (239 feet), height of 24 metres (79 feet) and maximum take-off weight of 560 tonnes.

It far exceeds the 747 by US rival Boeing by being able to transport between 500 passengers in a typical first-business-economy class configuration and 840 passengers in an all-economy set-up on its two full decks. The 747, which had ruled the commercial skies since 1975, typically carry 416 passengers in comparison.

Mr Chirac said the "big success" of the A380 project showed that Europe should cooperate further in other industrial domains, notably in high technology. "We can, and we must, go further on this path of European construction so essential for growth and employment," he said. Mr Blair called the A380 "simply stunning". "Today is the culmination of many years of hard work," he said, congratulating the workers in Britain and in the other European countries involved for their contributions.

Mr Schroeder took the opportunity to make a barely-veiled jab at the United States, whose secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, dismissed France, Germany and other countries as "Old Europe" for opposing the Iraq war. "Good old Europe has made this possible," the German leader said, hailing Europe's leading position in civil aviation.

Airbus has already taken 149 orders for the US$280 million planes, ``which for a plane of this size that has not yet flown is an extraordinary commercial performance,'' said Noel Forgeard. The A380 will take to the skies next year. Airbus says companies have options on dozens more and that the programme will break even after 250 sales -- an objective it hopes to reach within three years. In all, the company expects to sell 700-750 aircraft. ``It is a plane that will fly for 30 to 40 years,'' Forgeard said.

Airbus trailed Boeing until 2003, when it delivered more planes than its US rival for the first time -- a feat it matched last year, with 320 deliveries to Boeing's 285, and is likely to repeat this year.

How the plane's extra space is used will be left up to airlines, whose A380 cabin designs have remained closely guarded. In the future, low-cost carriers could operate the A380 with a single economy class configuration accommodating as many as 800 passengers. Virgin company chief Richard Branson, said his airline, which has ordered six A380s, will offer private double beds for first-class passengers and casinos.

The Chairman of Dubai-based carrier Emirates, which is so far the largest A380 customer with 45 orders, said the plane was a ``key element in our future growth'' and offers ``the widest cabin of any aircraft in the world.'' ``It provides lower seat-mile costs and carries more passengers further and consumes less fuel than its competitors,'' Sheikh Ahmed bin Saee Al Maktoum, said.

Chew Choon Seng, CEO of Singapore Airlines, said the A380 would increase passenger and cargo capacities ``without increasing aircraft movements and without congesting the skies and adding to congestion on airport taxiways and runways.'' Singapore Airlines will begin using the plane for services to London and Sydney when it becomes the first carrier to carry commercial passengers aboard the A380 in mid-2006, he said.

India, US sign open skies aviation agreement

WASHINGTON, Jan 16: The United States and India have reached open-skies aviation agreement that will lead to more flights, lower fares and stronger economic ties between the two countries, US Transportation Secretary Norman Y Mineta has announced. The announcement came on Saturday after three days of negotiations between Mineta and Civil Aviation Minister, Praful Patel.

Mineta said the agreement means the two countries "will be closer than ever before" and begins "a new era where American and Indian consumers, airlines and economies can reap the rewards of cheaper flights, more choices and faster air service." He said the agreement would strengthen commercial aviation in a number of ways, including more direct flights to serve the approximately two million passengers a year travelling between the two countries.

The agreement allows airlines from both countries to select routes and destinations based on consumer demand, providing for open routes, capacity, frequencies, designations, and pricing as well as opportunities for cooperative marketing arrangements. That includes code sharing with domestic Indian carriers to aid in making reservations and giving a greater choice of flights.

The deal also allows all-cargo operators to operate in either country without directly connecting to their homeland. India and the United States are the world's two largest democracies and two of world's fastest growing economies, Mineta noted in a statement.


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