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ACAAI meet helps boost trade between India, Malaysia

By Deepak Arora

KUALA LUMPUR: The 32nd annual convention of Air Cargo Agents Association of India (ACAAI) in Kuala Lumpur was a grand success by all standards. The ACAAI President, Mr Sam Katgara, had a beaming smile at the end of three-day fruitful sessions. And why not? As many as 320 delegates from India had attended the convention which was addressed by experts and 'who is who' of the cargo industry. . "Mission accomplished," he said.

The convention succeeded in bringing India and Malaysia together in seizing further opportunities to develop the trade between the two friendly nations. It also helped in developing bonhomie and comradeship between the freight agents and the airlines.

The Malaysian Deputy Transport Minister, Yang Mulia Tengku Dato Sari Azlan Ibini Sultan Abu BaKar, opened the ACAAI annual convention by lighting the tradition Indian lamp. The Indian Civil Aviation Secretary, Mr Ajay Prasad, the Indian High Commissioner, Mr R L Narayan, and the ACAAI President also participated in lighting the lamp ceremony.

In his key note address, Yang Mulia Tengku Dato Sari Azlan Ibini Sultan Abu BaKar said "Malaysia has strong historical links with India, and over the years the relationship between these two friendly countries has strengthened. India continues to be a valuable trading partner of Malaysia."

The Minister stressed on the need for consolidating the strengths and pooling of resources by the freight forwarders in the light of horizontal and vertical integration that is taking place in the segments of airline industry. Therefore, he said, the airlines and freight forwarders were in the process of understanding and appreciating the need for closer relationship.

The Civil Aviation Secretary, Mr Ajay Prasad, assured that the much-awaited new Civil Aviation policy would see the light of the day some time early next year. He assured better infrastructure in terms of ultra modern airports and cargo hubs. He said the restructuring of Delhi and Mumbai airports in collaboration with new private partner would be completed by June next year.

Mr Prasad assured the delegates that a new thrust is being given to cargo in the country. He assured that many new cargo complexes would be developed at many airports. He informed that Indian Airlines and Air India would launch dedicated freighter services sometime next year.

This is the third convention in a row being held outside India and it displays ACAAI's confidence in attempting to reach out and expose to the trends and influences in the Cargo Industry, beyond India's shores and skies. The 30th annual convention was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka and the next one in Dubai, UAE. The theme of this year's Kuala Lumpur convention was "Airlines & Forwarder: Leveraging their Strengths."

The top people from the cargo and airline industry addressed the six business sessions that helped the trade partners in leveraging their strengths and move forward to a better and brighter tomorrow. Some of the top names that were present included the Indian Airlines Chairman and Managing Director, Mr Sunil Arora; the Air India Chairman and Managing Director, Mr V Thulasidas; the Senior General Manager, Malaysia Airlines, Mr J J Ong; the FIEO Chairman, Mr Rafeeque Ahmed; and the Coke Vice President, Mr Adil Malia.

The convention also decided that ACAAI would play an active role by recommending the views of the industry in the formation of the civil aviation policy as advised by the Civil Aviation Secretary. It also called for business transparency and engaging in constructive dialogue with the partners on issues concerning both to strengthen the relationship.

In his presidential address, Mr Sam Katgara said it was well-declared policy of our two countries to co-operate with each other under the Southeastern umbrella. This Convention, he said would certainly strengthen the regional co-operation and close relationship between the Air Cargo Industry in India and Malaysia.

Mr Katgara said in the global cargo scenario, cargo growth outstripped passenger levels. "It is heartening to know that cargo traffic growth improved by 12 per cent in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in the year 2003. The global cargo traffic is 13.6 per cent higher and has outstripped passenger traffic levels, which are 8.8 per cent."

He said "traffic growth for the first five months of 2004 is testimony to the resilience of air transport. Not only have we recovered from the impact of SARs and war in Iraq, all major regions of the world are reporting traffic levels above those of 2000 - the last normal year for the industry. Despite the shocks that have rocked the airline industry in recent years, the underlying industry growth rate is 3.6 per cent. Efficiency gains and cost cutting remain priorities to return the industry to health."

Highlighting the tradition warm ties between the countries, the Indian High Commissioner, Mr R L Narayan, the trade and economic ties between India and Malaysia were growing in leaps and bounds. He hoped that Malaysian Government would take note of the tremendous opportunities being offered by India in building its infrastructure network.

IA en route to numero uno slot

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: One must congratulate the new Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government for taking a quick decision of allowing the public sector Indian Airlines to acquire new aircraft. The move is right as Indian Airlines had wanted to purchase new aircraft to meet the growing competition from private carriers, Jet Airways and Air Sahara, 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 Wednesday, the Public Investment Board (PIB), comprising Finance, Expenditure and Civil Aviation Secretaries, approved the Indian Airlines plan to acquire 43 new Airbus aircraft at a cost of Rs 9,475 crore. The Civil Aviation Secretary, Mr Ajay Prasad, said the price of 43 aircraft had come down from Rs 10,089 crores to Rs 9,475 crores. The PIB reduced the projected amount approved by the Indian Airlines Board in view of the exchange rate fluctuations and a stronger rupee.

Welcoming the PIB approval, the IA Chairman and Managing Director, Mr Sunil Arora, said "the entire IA family is relieved and elated. We are thankful to the Ministries of Civil Aviation and Finance that they finally took cognizance of the long felt need of the airline to replace and add capacity."
Mr Arora said "this would definitely mean a quantum upgrade in terms of further improvement of the product. If the competition has aircraft of three to five years of age, it becomes difficult for us, despite our best efforts, to cope up with aircraft of older vintage."

In fact, he said, "its tribute to the entire operational staff that they have been able to enhance the utilization of Airbus aircraft from 2,800 to 2,900 hours per annum to 3,400 hours per annum in the last four years. However, if they are given new equipment they can be reasonably expected to do much better."

Mr Arora said "in the absence of equipment, the comparison of Indian airlines of Indian Airlines with the competitors is almost like comparing apples with oranges. There are other factors pertaining to product upgrade which are constantly being looked into, but the matching equipment by itself is almost 50 per cent of the battle won. The rest is to enhance maintenance, cleanliness of the cabin, in-flight service, cuisine and all other aspects related to passenger traffic."

The proposal has been hanging fire since March 2002 when the Indian Airlines Board cleared it. Unlike the private carriers, it needs government approval before placing orders for the planes. This will be the first fleet acquisition by the airline in 15 years. The last purchase took place when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.

The proposal would now be put up before the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), according to Mr D Swarup, Expenditure Secretary. The Finance Ministry has also agreed to provide sovereign guarantees to help Indian Airlines raise funds in the international markets for purchasing the aircraft.

Around 90 per cent of the deal will be funded through external commercial borrowings and the remaining 10 per cent will be funded by way of government equity infusion in Indian Airlines. It is expected that the final Cabinet approval would come through by January and the aircraft would start arriving in the later half of 2006. All aircraft will be fitted with CFM-56 engines made jointly by General Electric Co. and Snecma, a state-controlled French aerospace company.

Indian Airlines would now commence price negotiations with Airbus for the planes. Under the deal, Airbus has agreed to invest in India 30 per cent of the total value of the airframes (the aircraft minus the engine). The investment would be for buying aircraft doors from Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and software from Indian firms. The Airbus Senior Vice-President, Mr Kiran Rao, has welcomed the announcement.

India's air travel market is small even though the country has one of the world's fastest-growing economies. The air travel market is small because of high fuel cost and high taxes that inflate the air fares. It is for this reason, India's billion-plus people use the subsidised rail network. Only 15 million people travelled by air in Asia's fourth-largest economy in 2003-2004, a little more than the number who use the much cheaper rail network in a single day.

Still, air travel demand is expected to rise by nearly 9 per cent annually for the next 20 years as incomes rise at a fast clip, fuelling demand for 290 new jets valued at $22 billion, according to Boeing. The Indian Airlines deal was crucial to both Airbus and arch-rival American company, Boeing, caught in a fierce battle for market share in a recovering global aviation industry. Airbus overtook Boeing as the world's biggest commercial jet maker in 2003.

Airbus is 80-percent-owned by European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co NV, based in France and Germany. BAE Systems Plc, a British aerospace company, owns the rest. Indian Airlines' fleet of 65 aircraft includes 15 leased Airbus A320s and four turboprop planes. The average age of the aircraft is around 15 years and they are pending replacement. The new fleet of 43 Airbus planes will be used to retire this aging lot.

Malaysia Airlines to connect Ahmedabad

NEW DELHI, Nov18: Malaysia Airlines, the national carrier of Malaysia, will launch return direct flights from Ahmedabad to Kuala Lumpur, on December 16. The thrice-weekly flights from Ahmedabad are on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The five-hour-and-five-minute flight will depart from the Sardar Vallabhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad, India, at 2335 hrs (Local time) and arrive at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Kuala Lumpur at 0705 hrs (Malaysia Time). The return flight will depart from KLIA, Kuala Lumpur at 1930 hrs (Malaysia Time) and arrive at 2205 hrs (Local time) at Ahmedabad.

With the return direct flight, Malaysia Airlines will have direct connectivity from six different routes in India. Seat capacity will increase to 8,128 seats per week from the present 5,844 seats per week and the total number of flights to 26 per week from 23. The airline will operate the Airbus 330- 300 series aircraft with a total of 290 seats per flight, comprising 42 Business class seats and 248 economy class passenger seats.

Mr Zainal Abidin Sulaiman, Area Manager, Malaysia Airlines, said "The State of Gujarat plays a significant role in the Indian Outbound Air Traffic. Gujaratis are a known travelling community and we want to service them right from their doorstep, which will save them two precious hours in traveling time."

Ms Sonia Dutt, Marketing Manager, South Asia, Malaysia Airlines, said "The leisure and business segment in Gujarat contributes almost 70 per cent of the air traffic. We expect the air traffic to grow by 12 to 16 per cent per annum with the new service." She said "Malaysia Airlines would like to tap the growing markets especially where the Gujarati community has interest. We expect this new route to attract the primary market to Malaysia and beyond, especially Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and USA." She said "the new route is part of our expansion plan in India and demonstrates our commitment to an emerging economic giant like India."

Malaysia Airlines presently operates daily (7 times per week) from Chennai, 4 weekly flights from New Delhi and Mumbai, twice-weekly flight from Bangalore and once weekly flight from Hyderabad. Globally the airline has a fleet of nearly 100 aircrafts connecting more than 100 destinations. The airline started its operations in India in 1972 from the city of Chennai.

Eurocopter hands over 2 new copters to Pawan Hans

NEW DELHI, Nov 9: Eurocopter, the world's number one manufacturer of helicopters, today handed over two new Dauphin AS 365 N3 helicopters to Pawan Hans. Mrs. Marie-Agnes Veve, Head of Dauphin, presented a memento to Pawan Hans Chairman and Managing Director, Mr Nagar V Sridhar, commemorating the occasion. With these new additions, Pawan Hans expands its fleet to 23 Dauphins, thereby, becoming the biggest fleet of Eurocopter helicopters in India.

The two AS 365 N3's have undergone several technical advancements, which include modular design of the mechanical assemblies and use of composite materials leading to considerable reduction in maintenance costs.

Speaking on the occasion, Mrs Marie-Agnes Veve, Head of Dauphin said " One thing which is constant all across the world is the confidence that Dauphin operators have in the reliability of the helicopter. We cherish this trust and always strive to provide value added services to our customers. In researching future technologies, our approach is to target reductions in development time, operating cost, noise and pilot workload. Our major research goals are to increase safety, passenger comfort, enhance performance and customize it to suit all weather conditions."

On Eurocopter's association with Pawan Hans, Mrs Veve said, "We share a very special relationship with Pawan Hans, which is India's leading helicopter operator as well as the biggest customer of Eurocopter in India." On Eurocopter's plans for India, Mrs. Veve mentioned, "The Indian aviation industry is witnessing tremendous growth. The aviation sector has become more receptive to new models and fresh technology. State governments, helicopter operators and leading corporates are now using our helicopters. We are receiving an increasing number of inquiries from various business houses. This is very encouraging, we will soon start with flight demonstrations here."

Pawan Hans is the largest helicopter operator in India. It's fleet of helicopters is used for transportation of personnel to offshore platforms, for shuttle flights between drill barges and for transport of state officials and VIPs. It also provides charter services for tourists.

Eurocopter launched the Dauphin Helicopters in India in 1986.Since then, Pawan Hans has logged over 270,000 flying hours and over 1 million safe landings with its Dauphins.

In July 2002, Pawan Hans was appointed as a "Eurocopter Dauphin Helicopter Maintenance Centre" in India and South Asia. This gives Pawan Hans, an unique position as the sole approved Maintenance Centre with D level capabilities for the complete Eurocopter Dauphin fleet in South Asia.

Eurocopter helicopters are owned and used by prominent state Governments, reputed helicopter charter operators and prominent business groups in India. Worldwide, US Coast Guard is one of the biggest customers of Dauphin. The US Coast Guard owns a fleet of 96 Dauphins and has logged more than 700,000 flight hours with them.

Eurocopter was formed in the early 90's by the merger of the helicopter divisions of Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB) from Germany and Aerospatiale from France. The group is now a 100% subsidiary owned by EADS (European Aeronautic, Defense and Space Company), the second largest aerospace group in the world. Eurocopter offers a wider range of civil and military products than any other manufacturer, from the EC120 single-engine light helicopter up to a medium weight transport helicopter in the ten-tonne class, the Cougar MK2, thus covering about 80 percent of the global market demands.

IA fare discount to business class

NEW DELHI, Nov 3: Indian Airlines has launched a scheme offering discount on business class fare in a bid to enhance executive class travel by business and corporate travellers and promote companion or spouse travel. The person accompanying a full fare-paying passenger in `J' class will be entitled to a 50 per cent discount on the fare. They will have to travel together and the discount for the latter will be given against a written application from the full fare-paying passenger.

The scheme is available for one-way or round-trip travel on IA's domestic and international sectors for both Indian and foreigners residing here. It will be valid between November 5 and February 4, 2005. The scheme cannot be combined with any other current offer and may not be available on sectors and flights having a high frequency.

Pawan Hans gains new heights

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: Under the dynamic leadership of Mr Nagar V Sridhar, Chairman and Managing Director, Pawan Hans is gaining strength day by day and setting new standards. The public-sector undertaking achieve new heights this year when it paid the highest ever dividend of Rs 17.50 crore for the financial year 2003-04. This dividend is at the rate of 15.38 per cent of its paid up equity to its shareholders i.e. President of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation and ONGC. The dividend is 33.21 per cent of the net profit after tax.

The paid up capital of the company is Rs 113.76 crores with the Government holding 78.5 per cent and balance 21.5 per cent being held by ONGC. The Company has been consistently paying dividend since 1992-93 and till date has paid Rs 128.52 crore.

Mr Sridhar, who took over as CMD in June, 2002, has brought in professionalism in the company through his astute administration. His astute management skills could be gauged from the fact that under his administration Pawan Hans paid pending annual dividends of Rs 66.70 crore for the three financial years 1991-2000, 2000-01 and 2001-02. In other words, the company during Mr Sridhar's tenure of little over two years has paid dividends for five financial years.

The recent dividend cheque of Rs 13.73 crores (Government of India share) was presented by Pawan Hans Chairman and Managing Director to the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel. The Civil Aviation Secretary, Mr Ajay Prasad, and the Joint Secretary, Mr A.K. Upadhayay, were present on the occasion.

Mr Sridhar said the Company has been able to secure good long term business with the institutional clients mainly in the oil industry and the Government sector which has resulted in improved utilization of helicopter fleet. "The Company was able to achieve improved financial performance as compared to previous year on account of long term contracts, better charter rate structure with high revenue yield and increased utilization of helicopters through improved serviceability of fleet," he added.

Mr Sridhar said the company achieved a total flying task of 23,020 revenue hours for the year 2003-04 with an average monthly deployment of over 23.7 helicopters under long term contracts as compared to 20,173 hours and 21.2 helicopters in the previous financial year.

While accepting the cheque, the Civil Aviation Minister expressed happiness. Further, the Minister also said that he is proud of Pawan Hans and its employees for making all out efforts for this achievement.

Pawan Hans is one of India's leading helicopter company is known for its reliable helicopter operations. Since inception in 1985, the company has operated number of helicopters by offering wide range of services to its clients by operating a well balanced fleet of 32 helicopters consisting of Robinson(R-44), Bell 206L4, Bell 407, Dauphin SA 365N, Dauphin AS 365N3 and Mi-172.

It is the only aviation company in India being awarded ISO 9001: 2000 certification for its entire gamut of activities. Since its inception, Pawan Hans fleet has clocked over 3,30,000 hours and has done over 12,00,000 landings.

Pawan Hans gives top priority to safety and security of the passengers and has set stringent inspection rules. At Pawan Hans standing instructions of the Managing Director are do not clear the machine for flight even if there is an iota of doubt. "We are a public sector undertaking and we follow stringent guidelines on maintenance and with us safety comes before economic considerations," said Mr Sridhar. It is a different story that Pawan Hans has been showing profits and has declared the highest ever dividend for the last financial year.

The CMD said every helicopter goes through mandatory inspection at 25 hours; 50 hours or 30 days; and 100 hours or four months. Then there are T1, T2 or T3 inspections carried out at 500 hours or 18 months; 1,000 hours or 36 months; and 2,500 hours or 72 months. Then there is the G-Inspection that is carried out at every 5,000 hours or 10 years. In this the whole chopper is stripped to the last except for the label and every part is checked and changed. Mr Sridhar said "our helicopters are properly maintained and overhauled as per the procedures prescribed by the manufacturers."

Pawan Hans has a team of dedicated highly motivated and skilled manpower which includes pilots, engineers, executives and support staff. The company makes sure that these professionals receive the best possible training possible to upgrade their skills. A DGCA approved Training School is being run for the technical personnel and simulators are installed at Delhi and Mumbai to provide periodic instrument training to the pilots.

The company prides itself on being an extremely self-contained organization, with workshops covering different requirements (instruments, electrical, safety equipment, synthetic panel, component repair shop, Spectrometric Oil Analysis Procedure Lab and radio including Full Test Data checks) that are available on site at Mumbai. It carries out all periodic inspections as well as overhaul in-house.

Pawan Hans is an approved maintenance centre to carry out servicing of Dauphin series helicopters and is part of Eurocopter network of Authorized Maintenance Centre (AMC) worldwide to carry out the servicing in India and other South East Asian Countries.

Kingfisher Airlines - a fashion statement

By Deepak Arora

Models in designer outfits as flight attendants, latest audio and video in flight entertainment on every seat, attractive aircraft interiors and competitive fares. That is how liquor czar Vijay Mallya is going to place his Kingfisher Airlines that is set to get into flying mode in the first quarter of 2005.

Speaking to this correspondent, Dr Vijay Mallya, Chairman of the UB Group and Rajya Sabha member, said Kingfisher Airlines has signed a deal with Airbus to acquire 12 Airbus A-320 aircraft and the company may launch an IPO to raise funds. The company will be investing $750 million to acquire these new state-of-the-art aircraft from Airbus and firm deliveries of four aircraft will commence in October 2005. For the time being, Kingfisher Airlines is taking on lease four A-320s from GE Capital Aviation Services for Rs 100 crore.

Thereafter, he said investments in new airplanes will commence which will be financed through a variety of options that are available worldwide. The company may launch an initial public offering (IPO) at appropriate time to raise funds for the fleet acquisition. Kingfisher Airlines is currently a wholly owned subsidiary of UB Holdings.

All the aircraft in the Kingfisher fleet will seat 180 passengers in a one class "Funliner" configuration. CFM engines sourced from CFM International, a joint company of Snecma Moteurs, France and GE, USA, will power the Airbus A 320s. On the group's foray into aviation Dr Mallya said, "The UB group was the first to launch a non-government commercial air service in 1990. We now feel a compelling need to re-enter the aviation sector which is one of the fastest growing markets in the world."

He said "Kingfisher Airlines will have a 'Fly the Good Times' approach and this will reflect in the experience we will offer to passengers. With costs lower than economy class travel on full service Airlines and marginally more than the 'bus services' type low cost competition, Kingfisher offers a far better proposition. The aircraft and service will reflect the Kingfisher lifestyle imagery and credibility that has been built over the years."

Kingfisher "Funliner" aircraft interiors would be styled by India's leading fashion designers who have been signed on. The staff uniforms will be designed by Kingfisher fashion designers and flight attendants would be chosen in a "Kingfisher Flying Models contest" to be launched all over India. Kingfisher Airlines "Funliners" will offer in-flight entertainment on demand encompassing the very latest in-flight entertainment options available in the world. The "Funliners" will also offer multi-channel audio entertainment with built-in channel selectors on its slim line seats.

Other in-flight events include the "Kingfisher Flying Face of the Month Contest", in flight silent auctions for lifestyle products, in-flight sales of branded merchandise at attractive discounts and a host of other innovations. Kingfisher Airlines also proposes in-flight sales of dry packaged food and beverages.

Kingfisher would have the lowest per seat mile cost in India by virtue of a combination of leased and purchased aircraft. It will have maximum capacity utilization with the lowest turnaround times. It proposes to maintain low operating overheads by maximizing outsourcing of ground handling with emphasis on quality of service and competitiveness.

Dr Mallya said the airline planned to outsource many of the functions to Indian Airlines, which operates the same family of aircraft to minimize costs. Also proposed is the extensive use of IT to lower costs and allow for constant dynamic models on pricing, aircraft utilization and route planning.

"We intend to save on our labour costs by having under 70 employees per plane as against around 500 in Indian Airlines and 150 in Jet Airways," stated Dr Mallya.

Kingfisher would also offer an attractive loyalty rewards programme for its passengers and would be negotiating bulk deals with corporate sector.

He said at Kingfisher we would follow the Jet Blue budget airline model. "It will not be at the lowest end of the value chain but will seek to keep its costs low and fares very affordable." He said "I do not believe in putting wings on buses even though we chose Airbus aircraft." There will not be any Rs 500 fares but 15 per cent of the seats will be priced at the level of a second-class AC train fare.

"Of the 14 million traveling by train daily in India, 12 to 15 per cent travel in AC coaches. We are targeting these passengers," he added.
The airline has inducted airline veterans Mr Parvez Damania as Executive Director, Mr Alex Wilcox as Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Mr Vinay Kashyap, formerly with Indian Airlines, as adviser.

The airline will fly on all trunk routes like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Indore, Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram, Mangalore and Goa. "We are also looking at catering to international destinations if the Government permits it. However, we would not like to restrict ourselves to ASEAN and SAARC countries. The government should allow a level playing field," Dr Mallya said.

Mr Alex Wilcox, who has had a long stint in various international airlines, including Jet Blue, informed that the fares would fall into different price buckets in an ascending order.

Pawan Hans maintains stringent safety norms

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 10: An aircraft or helicopter crash, no matter how many casualties it results, always hits the news headlines -- be it the front pages of newspapers or television news networks or Internet websites. On the other hand the rail or road mishaps, though the bigger killers, do not catch that much media attention. This is not to belittle the aviation accidents. Any accident -- be it air, rail or road -- that claims lives is sad.

We must not forget that the most affected by any tragedy are the immediate members of the victim’s family. Similarly, we should not forget that pilots also do have families and none of them want to die. In other words, a pilot would not like to fly a machine that is unsafe.

However, it has been noticed many a times that soon after an air accident the so-called aviation experts – be it the politicians or the general public or the media persons -- start ogling out comments that normally do no good either for the public or for an operator. Somebody has rightly said “prejudging is criminal” and wrong reporting leads to disinformation.

Take the case of a recent helicopter crash at Barapani, about 20 km from Shillong. The public sector, Pawan Hans, chopper was on a routine flight from Guwahati to Shillong. All the eight passengers on board and two crewmembers were killed. Among them were Meghalaya community development minister Cyprian Sangma, legislators H N Marak and Ardhendu Chowdhury and former deputy speaker Aira Marak.

It is learnt that the weather was bad and visibility poor in the hills around Barapani when the ill-fated Dauphin helicopter on September 22 met with the accident. The preliminary inquiry suggests that bad weather was responsible for the Shillong mishap.

However, the media reports quoting the high profile politicians were quick to blame Pawan Hans for flying an ageing machine and having poor maintenance record. Those who said so were unaware of the stringent maintenance work schedules at Pawan Hans workshops and were unknowledgeable of as to how an age of an helicopter is calculated.

Before I explain this, lets understand that either the men on top ie the owners or the people behind ie passengers are generally considered responsible for an accident. The owner of a small fixed wing aircraft or a helicopter is responsible if he insists on clearing the machine in spite of some defects or prevailing bad weather conditions to get some quick economic gains. A quick turnaround means more money.

At times, VVIPs hopping from one destination to another nearby disregard norms and authorities or private air operators yield under political pressure. Experts say the safety norms that are in place are adequate but their implementation should be stringent.

1At Pawan Hans standing instructions of the Managing Director, Mr Nagar V Sridhar, are do not clear the machine for flight even if there is an iota of doubt. “We are a public sector undertaking and we follow stringent guidelines on maintenance and with us safety comes before economic considerations,” said Mr Sridhar.

It is a different story that Pawan Hans has been showing profits and is expected to declare record dividend for the last financial year. “For us every life matters and therefore safety is given top priority. We do not put our pilots to risk. They also do have families,” said Mr Sridhar expressing his concern on the lives lost in Meghalaya crash.

The crash near Barapani was the eighth involving Pawan Hans helicopter in the country, and the second in the northeast. This eight-seater Dauphin helicopter, four of which are in operation in northeast, had logged 14,400 hours and was to go for G-Inspection at the completion of 15,000 hours. Contrary to statements made by some local politicians, a helicopter does not have a fixed life span. This chopper had received airworthiness certificate in March this year that was valid till March, 2005.

Every helicopter goes through mandatory inspection at 25 hours, 50 hours or 30 days, and 100 hours or four months. Then there are T1, T2 or T3 inspection carried out at 500 hours or 18 months, 1,000 hours or 36 months and 2,500 hours or 72 months.

In the G-Inspection is carried out at every 5,000 hours or 10 years. In this the whole chopper is stripped to the last except for the label and every part is checked and changed. In other words, a helicopter has no fixed life span so long it goes through these checks and inspections.

Denying the allegations, Mr Sridhar said “our helicopters are properly maintained and overhauled as per the procedures prescribed by the manufacturers.” The Shillong chopper had

Since its inception in 1985, Pawan Hans fleet has clocked over 3,30,000 hours and has done over 12,00,000 landings. Weather has been the biggest troubleshooter for Pawan Hans. Out of its eight accidents, six had been due to bad weather/ disorientation, one due to human error and one has been purely due to mechanical snag.

Out of these eight mishaps, four have been on the hilly region that include the first accident on July 14, 1988 at Sanjhi Chat, Jammu; Kohima in February 1989; Itanagar in May 2001 and the recent one in Shillong. Three accidents have been over the sea ie near Bombay High in May 1997, off the Pondicherry coast in August 1988, and Lakshdweep in October 2003. One accident was over land ie in Patna in December 1989.

Bad weather has been the biggest worry for airlines, especially the helicopter operators. Unlike the big aircraft that cruise at 30,000 to 40,000 ft altitude, the helicopters normally fly at 6,000 ft at which level it faces clouds that deplete visibility. If a helicopters gets into CV (Cumulo Nimbus) clouds it results into death and destruction.

Cumulo Nibus is cauliflower type of cloud that generates high velocity with fast moving positive and negative charges. It gets into a very dynamic situation and the artificial horizon instrument goes haywire and makes it difficult for the pilot to save the situation. Even when a big aircraft gets closure to CV cloud it faces turbulence.

Malaysia Airlines goes hot on India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI:Malaysia Airlines has received approvals to commence flights to Ahmedabad and Kolkatta. The airline plans to start three flights to Ahmedabad from Dec 16and three flights to Kolkata from January 2 next year, according to Syed Abdillah Aziz, airline's Regional Manager, South Asia.

At present, Malaysian Airlines has four flights to Delhi, daily flight to Chennai, two to Bangalore, four to Mumbai and one to Hyderabad. It plans to add one more flight to Bangalore, three to Mumbai and two to Hyderabad and place into service Boeing 747-400 to Chennai thereby adding 100 seats from the South gateway to Kaulalumpur. With these new additions, the airline's total flights would go up from 18 to 30 per week from India. Only last year, the airline had seven flights out of India, informed Syed Aziz.

The additional flights indicate that Malaysia considers India as a lucrative tourist market. The Malaysian Tourism Minister, Dr Leo Michael Toyad, said Malaysia is targeting 400,000 Indian arrivals by the year 2007. The total Indian arrivals to Malaysia in 2002 were 183,000 and in 2003 were 145,000.

However, Dr Toyad said in the first seven months of this year this figure has already crossed more than 105,000 and the Ministry of Tourism expects these figures to touch 200,000 by the end of this year.

During his visit to India, the Minister announced a strategic plan for Tourism Malaysia to promote Malaysia as a preferred tourist destination among the Indians. The plan based on the principle of "Consolidation" and "Value for Money" specifies three broad objectives - active public-private participation, strengthening of the distribution network and customized positioning of products.

The Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board Director, Mr Manoharan, said the Malaysian Tourism Ministry anticipates 25 per cent growth in the tourist receipts from India, which at present stands at US $ 71.15 million. Mr Manoharan also hopes to achieve and sustain average growth of stay to 11 to 12 days from 9.1 days in 203. It also plans to lay special stress doubling the business arrivals from India, which at present stands at 23.4 per cent.

To provide more seats to his country, Dr Toyad said his government would welcome all public and private airlines to fly between the two countries. "The government is ready to facilitate and accommodate the needs of existing and potential airlines which would help in augmenting the seat capacity and connectivity."

He said the Ministry of Tourism would continue joint promotions with not only the national carrier Malaysia Airlines but with other airlines too which has a direct or indirect link between the two countries.

We also have to learn from the Malaysians on how not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. It's a known fact that Malaysia knows the importance of tourism and its contribution towards development of its economy. The country has come a long way from the doldrums of 1997-98 when tourist arrivals was at its lowest at 5.5 million to record high of 13.25 million in 2002 and 10.6 million in 2003.

Realizing the importance of tourism as a significant foreign exchange earner and employment tool of the country's workforce, Malaysian Government keeps introducing new steps to attract foreign tourists. One such step taken early this year was launch of I-Visa (Internet Visa) to woo tourists from China and India. A pilot project was launched on March 15 this year in Chennai.

Though, the I-Visa has become an instant hit, the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) objected to demand of Rs 3.5 lakh bank guarantee from travel agents by the Malaysian High Commission.

Said Mr Balbir Mayal, TAAI President, "demand for the bank guarantee is unreasonable. No embassy or High Commission has ever asked for such guarantees. Today its Malaysia, tomorrow it could the US and others. There are over 100 embassies in India and if travel agents start giving bank guarantees, the amount would run into Crores, and that is not a feasible proposition."

Mr Mayal and his TAAI team had a meeting with the Malaysian Tourism Minister during his recent visit to New Delhi. "Dr Toyad was very receptive to us and promised to look into the matter and discuss the issue with the Home Ministry," said Mr Balbir Mayal.

Mr Mayal said TAAI was ready to take responsibility and guarantee of its agents and this was conveyed to the visiting Minister. However, he said if any travel agent defaults the Malaysian Government should blacklist him.

The Malaysian Minister said "the I-Visa is more for the convenience of travelers and travel agents, who have to provide customer's proof online."

In the I-Visa, once a customer gets an online okay from the High Commission, he can take the slip from the travel agent and get the visa stamped from the High Commission office. It saves travel time and long queues at the High Commission. The Malaysian idea behind bank guarantee is to make the travel agent more responsible.

However taking into account concerns of TAAI, Dr Toyad assured this correspondent that his Ministry was preparing a Cabinet paper and also discuss the issue with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Home. Thus, he showed how Malaysia cares and ready to take all concerns into account to be an attractive tourist destination.

Giving details of the I-Visa issued from Chennai, he said in March 4,673 visas were issued and out of that I-Visas were 1,090. In April the total figure was 6,407 (I-Visa 3,893); in May 5,681 (I-Visa 4,000); in June 3,544 (I-Visa 2722), July 4,661 (I-Visa 3,666) and till August 20 the total visas issued were 2,800 that included 2,242 I-Visas. The Minister said the I-Visa has taken off well in the two cities of China.

Air Deccan slashes fares; IA, Jet, Sahara hike it

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 9: While the big three domestic airlines - Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Air Sahara - have found excuse in rising fuel prices to hike fares by 10 per cent, their relatively "smaller" competitor, Air Deccan, has announced a 20 per cent drop on its long-haul sectors, terming it as a benefit of flying full capacity. The rise in airfares by bigger carriers seems to have spoilt the party for domestic air travellers, who, in the run-up to the festive season, were seeing attractive fares and price cuts.

Air Deccan managing director G R Gopinath said "our seats are booked to 60 to 70 per cent capacity. This is a good load factor and the continued demand has helped us achieve better operational efficiencies." He said "Air Deccan, keeping with its philosophy of offering lowest fares and empowering every Indian to fly, has decided to drop fares by 20 per cent and increase its passenger loads."

On the rising Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) prices, Capt Gopinath mentioned "the incremental revenue from passengers will offset the cost of increase in ATF." He added "with Air Deccan operating out of 22 airports every increase in flights to these airports would bring the ticket costs down further."

Capt Gopinath said "we will continue to operate the 'Dynafares scheme' under which tickets are priced from Rs 700 onwards. The top-end fares, which are available to passengers booking tickets two days prior to travel, have now been dropped. Air Deccan is offering fares up to 55 per cent lower than other airlines." Unlike other domestic airlines, Air Deccan is the only profit making airline in the country.

Under the new discount scheme of Air Deccan, the Delhi-Mumbai fare for tickets booked even hours before the travel date will be available for Rs 3,400 as against Rs 4,400 earlier. The other airlines on this sector offer tickets after 10 per cent hike at Rs 7,250. The Delhi-Bangalore top-end fare has been cut from Rs 6,600 earlier to Rs 5,200. Other airlines offer stands at Rs 11,400.

On Bangalore-Mumbai sector, new Deccan price is Rs 2,600 while others offer stands at Rs 5,600. On Delhi-Hyderabad, Deccan tickets would cost Rs 4,000 as compared to Rs 9,600 of bigger carriers. Deccan has priced Delhi-Chennai sector at Rs 4,500 as compared to Rs 11,800 of other airlines.

On Friday, Indian Airlines and Jet in separate announcements had announced to hike their fares by 10 per cent from October 14 citing the rise in fuel prices as the reason.

According to a Jet release, the upward revision has been necessitated by the 19 per cent price increase in aviation turbine fuel (ATF) since June, 2004. The ATF component in Jet Airways' operating costs has increased from 28 per cent to 33 per cent now, translating into an additional expense of Rs 13 crore on ATF, compared to the June figures.

For both Indian Airlines and Jet there would also be proportional increases in other promotional fares, apart from the economy and business class tickets. This means that excursion fares, advance purchase fares and the positioning flight fares would also be revised. Air Sahara would, however, not affect any increase in its promotional scheme, which offers a Delhi-Mumbai ticket for Rs 4,444.

The prevailing high ATF prices have added substantially to the operating costs of Indian Airlines and its subsidiary Alliance Air, necessitating an increase in fares, an IA spokesperson said.

The continued increase in ATF prices has added substantially to the input costs of airlines and thrown their projections out of gear. The ATF price has touched an all time high in October, 2004, which is a matter of concern to IATA and the member airlines. The rise in ATF prices this year has added $9 to10 billion to the industry's fuel costs for international operations alone.


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