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Rono Dutta's mantra for success

By Sushma Arora

KOLKATA, Sept 24: The CEO of Air Sahara, Mr Rono Dutta, has said that network; city share; product; yield management; loyalty programme; and alliances are the key to success of any airline.

In his keynote address titled "Struggle for profits" at the 53rd TAAI annual convention here, Mr Dutta, said network is the backbone and key flow area of any airlines. Access is most important to create financial center hubs. India must create aviation hubs outside India to get out of the black hole. Every other successful airline has done it, be it British Airways or Lufthansa or Singapore Airlines.

He reminded that every aviation hub creates a financial center that creates US $ 35 million to the local economy.

Mr Dutta stressed that privatization and more access to foreign carriers were important, but the Government must take a balanced view otherwise it could lose to India becoming a financial hub like Dubai or Singapore.

In his address, he said City Share was important to be clear on your points of strengths. On the Product, he said failure points here are the human contacts. It is important to upgrade technology or be at par with tech and innovate product.

On Yield management, he mentioned that "Time value to Money" was important to stimulate demand. He said airlines have to be price sensitive, capture customer behavior at different price points, and have seven to eight different price structures for attracting customers.

He informed that Loyalty Programme such as frequent flyers contributes to 15 per cent of loyalty. Price of course alone contributes 45 per cent, schedules are 20 per cent and product commands another 20 per cent in terms of loyalty programs.

Elaborating on Alliances, Mr Dutta said we must learn what the British always did. Never fight a battle alone. We need to learn from Lufthansa, Singapore and all others what alliances can mean to the revenue of an airline. He said that it has proven that airlines and customers are commodities.

Mr Dutta warned that the current competition through airfares between airlines would lead to closure of some carriers. To succeed in this tough environment, he said that two carrier hubs would not work. Instead, the airlines should focus and specialize on few cities.

IA takes private carriers by the horn

By Deepak Arora

The big boss Indian Airlines has also sounded the fare war bugle and has decided to take the private players by the horn on this. Though some of the private airlines are talking of Rs 500 a ticket, Indian Airlines announced that it would match any fare offered by any airline. “Of course there will be no compromise on our service standards and safety,” said Mr Anil Goyal, Commercial Director of the public sector Indian Airlines.

Mr Goyal announced better discounts and deals than the 30-day Apex fares introduced recently by Jet Airways and Air Sahara recently. The state-owned Indian Airlines announcing a near 60 per cent cut in its air tickets booked 28 days in advance. Under the scheme (D-28), a 28-day Apex (advance purchase) Delhi-Mumbai ticket will now be available for Rs 2,500.

Explaining how IA’s scheme is better than the rivals, Mr Goyal said “the main advantage is that our scheme is available for one-way flights as well. The other scoring point is that we offer the least number of days for advance purchase of tickets as compared to 30-day offer by other private players.”

The new fares are available on metro sectors and has been introduced to match the increased competition in the market as also to attract AC 2-tier train passengers, he said. The Apex D-28 fares would be available with immediate effect and would be valid for sale upto October 15.

Ms Manjira Khurana, Director in-flight services and Coordinator Marketing Services, said any change in booking from D-7 and D-21 (the two other schemes already being offered) to D-28 would be permitted without application of any cancellation charge. She said the passenger could also be allowed to convert from Apex D-28 to normal fare without applicable of cancellation charge till August 15.

Mr Goyal said Indian Airlines had introduced the Smart Apex fares which offered advance purchase options on 7-day and 21-day basis. It was now felt that that there was a market for similar fare on an advance purchase beyond three weeks prior to the date of travel.

The D-28 is being offered on eight sectors. These include with one way ticket price Delhi-Mumbai (Rs 2,500); Delhi-Kolkata and Delhi-Hyderabad (Rs 3,000 each); and Delhi-Bangalore, Delhi Chennai, Kolkata-Mumbai, Kolkata-Bangalore and Chennai-Kolkatta (all for Rs 3,500 each).

With these new discounts, Indian Airlines has shown that it continues to set the agenda in the aviation market, particularly on fares. Way back in May 2001, the airline introduced the international practice of juxtaposing the fares on market requirement and yields, with the concept of Flexi-Fares. The underlying philosophy being that once the place has taken off, vacant seats are an opportunity lost forever.

Under the flexi-fare concept, the fares were restructured sector-to-sector, season-to-season, peak time to non-peak time. The market had not seen anything like this and before long, this concept had caught up with the others in the field too. The air traveler looked forward to something exciting coming his way all the time.

Mr Goyal said Indian Airlines took a conscious decision that instead of having a static and stagnant fare policy, it would have to keep a fluid and dynamic fare structure which was both cost driven and market driven. The various schemes and promotions that followed were only variants of the flexi-fare module.

The Apex (Advance Purchase Excursion Fares) which was a corollary to the flexi-fare strategy module, followed soon in December 2001. They aimed at attracting more passengers especially the top end of rail traffic. The response to Apex fares, which have been periodically reviewed and improvised upon, has been overwhelming, with as many as 1,000 to 1,500 more passengers traveling Indian Airlines every day.

The Smart Apex fare introduced in June last year, offered advance purchase options of seven days and 21 days on as many as 56 sectors. Presently, it is available on 67 domestic sectors. The longer period of 21 days found favour with vacationers and travelers without deadlines.

The Super Saver and Super Saver Golden Edge schemes introduced last August were a bonanza for regular travelers. While the former offered four economy class domestic sectors for Rs 25,000, the later offered eight economy class domestic sectors for Rs 50,000.

Next came positioning flight fares from April this year. Fares were cheaper by as much as 50 per cent to 60 per cent on the domestic leg of IA’s international flights. Like on Ahmedabad-Hyderabad sector IC 563/ 564 and IC981/ 982, the fare was Rs 3,500 as against the normal fare of Rs 5,975.

A special fare for flights from Mumbai to destinations to Gujarat called the Common Promotional Fare of Rs 2,000 was introduced in May this year and has been a hit with the locals. A flat fare of Rs 2,000 was charged on sectors Mumbai-Vadodara, Mumbai-Bhavnagar and Mumbai-Rajkot, as against the normal fare of Rs 2,830, Rs 2,725 and Rs 3,130 respectively.

Significantly, Mr Goyal said the airline saw a record carriage of passengers from April to June this year. The average daily carriage was over 25,000 passengers, which the airline had not witnessed since December 2000. The spurt in carriage can be attributed to a large part on the various marketing initiatives of Indian Airlines including the discounted fares.

The recent offering this time to boost air travel to and from smaller cities and mini metros is the IA Metro Non-Metro Fares from July 16 to October 15. Under this scheme, a passenger traveling on non-metro sector in conjunction with a metro sector has to just pay Rs 1,000 for the non-metro sector. For instance, from Bangalore-Delhi-Patna, the fare under this scheme is Rs 11,630 as against the normal Rs 15,985. Or from Udaipur-Mumbai-Chennai the metro non-metro fare is Rs 7,030 against the normal fare of 10,645.

While the fares initiative stands out for its tremendous impact on the domestic aviation market, several other marketing initiatives taken by Indian Airlines have simultaneously helped in boosting air travel. The marketing initiatives along with the attractive fares and other product upgrades aimed at giving value addition to the corporate travelers, frequent fliers and leisure travelers.

Helicopter service to Kedarnath relaunched

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: Sept 12: Though Uttaranchal is one of the youngest States, it is one of the fastest growing States as far as tourism is concerned. The State under the leadership of Chief Minister, Mr N D Tiwari and under the able guidance of the Tourism Minister, Lt Gen T P S Rawat, and Tourism Secretary, Dr N N Prasad, is doing everything possible to make Uttaranchal a world class tourism destination.

Recognising the importance of tourism as a key GDP driver, the State has accorded industry status to tourism. Uttaranchal, cradled in the Himalayas, has unparallel natural beauty. It is home to famous pilgrimage and spiritual centers for all religions like Badrinath, Kedarnath, Hemkunt Sahib and Pirankaliyar, source of the mighty Ganga and Yamuna and land of hundreds of lakes.

It also has world centre for yoga and meditation at Rishikesh and provides and practices concepts of wellness based on Indian system of medicine - Ayurveda, herbal treatment and naturopathy. Its 90 per cent of land mass is under mountains and 70 per cent under forests. It has rich and diverse flora and fauna. It is also a paradise for adventure tourism, white water rafting and skiing, and trekking, mountaineering and aero sports. The world famous "Valley of Flowers", the world heritage site of Naina Devi, and Corbett National Park are all located in Uttaranchal.

The USP of the state is that it is 150 km from the national capital of Delhi, has high literacy rate and is completely safe and secure destination. It has a tourist friendly environment where people follow the motto "Atithi Devo Bhava" (Guest is God).

The State Government is doing all to improve its connectivity by rail, road and air to develop Uttranchal as an all year round tourist destination.

In that direction Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd has resumed helicopter services to the holy shrine of Kedarnath by a five-seater Bell 407 helicopter from Augustmuni in collaboration with Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam and the State Government. The fare is Rs 8,501 per passenger for the round trip (Agustmuni-Kedarnath-Augustmuni) inclusive of priority darshan, according to Mr Nagar V Sridhar, Chairman and Managing Director of Pawan Hans.

The Uttaranchal Tourism Secretary, Mr N N Prasad, informed that the helicopter service would help the devotees who for various constrains such as time, health and age cannot visit the holy shrine. "This would ease the journey of pilgrims and save their precious time," he added.

Pawan Hans has signed a memorandum of understanding with Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd (GMVN), a Government of Uttranchal undertaking, for promoting pilgrimage tourism, eco tourism, adventure tourism in the State on August 18 this year.

As per the MOU, Pawan Hans would connect the important places such as Shree Kedarnath Dham, Badrinath Dham, Ghangaria, Hemund Sahib from Gauchar airport near Rudraprayag from the next year onwards by helicopter.

Mr Nagar Sridhar said Pawan Hans along with GMVN would make efforts to provide the basic framework for working together in future on a long term basis for growth and business development.

Pawan Hans is one of India's leading helicopter company is known for its its reliable helicopter operations. The company was incorporated in 1985 with the objective of providing helicopter services to the petroleum sector, linking inaccessible areas of the country and operating charters for promotion of tourism.

Mr Sridhar said last year Pawan Hans had carried 750 passengers to Kedarnath and the weather gods had also played truants and curtailed service during the season. "However, the company had made cash profit. But in real sense it did not because of depreciation etc. However, this year the company should do much better."

This year, he said, we have placed one Bell 407 helicopter on service with four flights a day. "Next year, we plan to press two helicopters in service from summer somewhere in April/ May," added Mr Sridhar.

To realize the full tourism potential, Mr Prasad informed that the State Government has developed three airstrips at Gaucher, Chinyalisaur and Pithoragarh. "These are ready to be operationalised," he added. He informed that a master plan for airstrips has also been prepared.

Pawan Hans CMD said Gauchar is a beautiful airstrip. "We plan to develop it as our base where we plan to build helicopter hangers and build a passenger terminal that can be used to bring passengers from Delhi and transported further by helicopters to religious and tourist places," said Mr Sridhar. "It is for this reason we have signed an MOU with the State agency," he added.

Mr Prasad said that Jolly Grant airport at Dehradun is to be expanded and operationalised. Similarly, Pantnagar and Haridwar airstrips are to be expanded and operationalised. He said the State Government is exploring the possibility of commencing an airline called Mountain Airline.

"The airline is a vision and we are looking at its viability. The Government of India has given us Rs 15 lakhs to conduct a feasibility study. We plan to purchase about six helicopters to commence this airline that would take tourist to mountain and Himalayan rides," added Mr Prasad.

Besides expanding the air connectivity, the State is also focusing on train connectivity. Dehradun has recently been connected with a new Jan Shatabdi train from New Delhi and a new train to Chennai. A Sampurna Kranti train between Delhi and Kathgodam would also commence shorty, informed Mr Prasad. He said National Highway (NH 58) was also being upgraded to a four-lane expressway. "We also plan to develop nine ropeways."

SIA commences flights from Amritsar

NEW DELHI, Oct 4: Singapore Airlines (SIA) has commenced direct flights between Amritsar and Singapore, three times a week from Monday. Amritsar is the tenth Indian destination to be served by SIA and its subsidiary, Silk Air. These direct flights designated as SQ 471 (Amritsar - Singapore) and SQ 472 (Singapore -Amritsar) will operate on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday every week.

Boeing pitches for IA, AI

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 5: With the reports of the two national carriers having a relook at its fleet acquisition plans, the US aircraft giant, Boeing, has launched a fresh pitch with Air India and Indian Airlines.

With the rapid changes in domestic travel market and global aviation industry, the Indian carriers would have competitive advantages if they go in for Boeing aircraft, said Dr Dinesh Keskar, senior vice president (Sales), Boeing.

Dr Keskar said that in the past few years, the aviation industry has gone through tremendous changes. "After a few years of downturn in the aviation industry, air traffic is back on track, and is growing especially in India and Asia. However, now we are faced with new challenges such as rising price of jet fuel and appreciation of the Euro, but also opportunities for traffic growth."

Rising jet fuel price, combined with consistent newly introduced non-stop, point-to-point routes to India by major international carriers and introduction of low cost carriers throughout the region, requires established Indian carriers to reduce cost while enhancing its product and service offerings, he added.

Dr Keskar said "it is encouraging that Air India and Indian Airlines are now considering lease airplanes for their fleet expansion plans. Leased airplanes will allow the national carriers to induct much needed capacity immediately while required thorough evaluations of long-term fleets are being conducted."

He said that Boeing has offered to replace the aircraft leased by Air-India from South Korea with new generation ones at a "great price" and said Indian Airlines would save over Rs 700 crore if it bought planes from it.

"We have made a proposal to Air India to replace the aircraft it has leased from South Korea with new generation planes. It will be a great solution at a great price," he said.

He said B-747s would be replaced by similar aircraft with "new interiors of B-777s and private televisions on each economy class seats". The lease of the Korean Boeings expires in 2006-07.

To compete with current eight international airlines that use Boeing 777s to fly 160 flights per week into various Indian destinations, the national flagship carrier will need the competitive advantages of superior economics, revenue potential and passenger comfort.

"The 777-200ER/LR is the right choice for Air India to increase its market share, enhance passengers' flying experience, and maximize profitability," said Dr Keskar. He said that Air India has a mission to be one of the top airlines in the world and one airplane that can help Air India reach this goal is Boeing 777.

Once reevaluations are complete, there will be no doubt that Boeing airplane families are the most suitable for Indian carriers as they begin to dramatically expand to connect India to the rest of the world, he added.

The 777-200ER (extended range) can carry 31 more passengers, with four tonnes more cargo than the A340-300. The airplane also burns 10 percent less fuel and costs 23 percent less to maintain per passenger than the A340-300. In addition to greater profit potential and lower operating costs, the 777-200ER also has a higher resale value than its competitor.

As compared to its rival, he said the 777-200ER has a 65 per cent market share. Over the past five years, the 777-200ER has outsold the A340-30 by 3 to 1. On the passenger preference, he said 3 out of 4 passengers prefer 777 because of its wider cabin, wider seats, wider aisles, more headroom and more comfort.

Dr Keskar said due to overall schedule reliability, significant fuel savings, lower maintenance cost and lower operating costs, the 777-200ER provides US $ 3.13 million more profit per year.

The 737-800's economic advantages are the result of its ability to generate more revenue by carrying up to 12 more passengers and one-half tonne more cargo than the A320. Industry data also reveals that the 737-800 costs 15 to 20 percent less to maintain than its competitor and it can fly farther than the A320.

On the offer to Indian Airlines whose proposal to acquire 43 Airbus 319s, 320s and 321s is currently being vetted by the Government, Dr Keskar said: "our offer of Rs 700 crore rebate continues to stand".

There are reports that the Government has asked Indian Airlines in have a relook at its proposal to purchase new aircraft in the new aviation scenario. Boeing has been making this offer for the past few years to woo Indian Airlines into buying its planes.

Going back on 777, Dr Keskar said Singapore Airlines has signed a letter of intent to purchase up to 31 Boeing B777-300ER aircraft. Eighteen of the 31 aircraft are firm orders for delivery between 2006 to 2010, while the remaining 13 are subject to exercise of purchase rights. At list prices, the order is worth approximately US $ 7.35 billion, including cost of spares and spare engines.

General Electric GE90-115 engines will power the twin-engine aircraft. The order reinforces SIA's standing as the biggest customer for the Boeing 777s and has another four B777s on firm order. With the latest order, the number of B777s in the SIA's fleet will eventually reach 77 units.

The B777-300ER, seating about 350 passengers and with a range of 7,000 nm, will be deployed on SIA's long-haul and medium-haul routes. The new order will allow SIA to achieve fleet as one of the industry's youngest, as the B747-400 is progressively retired.

Jet revamps frequent flyer programme

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: India's private carrier, Jet Airways, has radically revamped its Frequent Flyer Programme called Jet Privilege (JP) and has added new global firsts to it. The new programme is more appealing, innovative, accessible and truly world-class for over 400,000 members. It has been created to recognise the longstanding relationship Jet Airways shares with all its members.

"This new programme is a radical departure from existing frequent flyer programme models followed by airlines around the world," said Mr Peter Luethi, Chief Operating Officer of the airline. He added "Jet Airways has always set the benchmark for loyalty programmes in India. With the new Jet Privilege, we have taken a major step forward in the way we acquire, recognise and reward our frequent fliers."

Mr Luethi said "the new programme is not only more rewarding but has many innovative benefits including a Global first. JP members can now access their membership account, transact online and enjoy a personalised web experience too."

The internationally acclaimed airline loyalty programme guru, Mr. Randy Petersen, has described the new programme as "Traditionally Frequent Flier programmes have focussed on mileage accrual/ redemption and fixed window for tier assessment. Jet Airways will be the first airline to build their Frequent Flier Programme based on 'Dynamic Tier Review' mechanism, which offers flexibility and truly understands the customers behaviour to build profitable customer relationships."

The new JP now offer two additional membership levels, thereby replacing the earlier three tier levels with five membership levels: JP Blue, JP Blue Plus, JP Silver, JP Gold and the elite JP Platinum. JP Members can now access, programme details online by logging on to www.jetairways.com The site also offers Jet Privilege members access to their own personalised online Jet Privilege accounts. The accounts are secured with member-specified password protection.

With an online JP account, members are can not only access, but also update their JP information, purchase tickets, access customized offers based on their preferences, verify their JPMiles and activities, claim missing JPMiles, redeem their JPMiles for Jet Airways flights and request any other information from the Jet Privilege Service Center. A full-fledged dedicated Service Centre is always available to handle any member enquiries or requirements.

With the new programme Jet Airways takes a lead in the introduction of a range of new benefits and unique privileges such as mileage earning capabilities globally in the Hyatt/Hilton chain of hotels. It also offers well-established features such as automatic mileage accrual, multiple mileage earning opportunities and global redemptions. Features that reinforce the new programme as it takes a giant leap forward.

A feature that makes the new Jet Privilege programme stand apart is the unique Dynamic Tier Review (DTR) system, a world first, pioneered by Jet Airways. A multiple criteria based tier assessment system, the DTR will offer JP Members quicker tier upgrades as well as enhanced opportunities to retain their tier membership level.

Earlier JP members were required to complete or earn a fixed number of Jet Airways flights or JPMiles within the pre-determined time frame of one financial year, i.e., April 01 to March 31 of next year. By automatically reviewing tier activities in the preceding 12 months, on a daily basis, the DTR will ensure that with each calendar date, the time frame slides a day ahead. If a member meets the applicable criteria within a shorter period of time due to regular frequency of travel, the DTR System will upgrade the member to a higher tier within six months.

At the end of a member's tier validity, the DTR will review the member's activity in the preceding 12-month period and as long as he achieves the requisite Jet Airways flights or JP Miles, the tier will be retained for an additional 12 month period.

Additionally, the system will provide for flexible time frame evaluations for the preceding 18 and 24 months in appreciation of the member's loyalty by allowing slight reduction in the tier requirement on the longer criteria period. For instance, if a member needs 60 flights in 12 months to retain his Platinum status, in 18 months he will technically require 90. However, DTR will enable him to do this at only 84.

Truly global in nature, the JP card is accepted across 400 cities in six continents wherever Jet Airways' international partners KLM Royal Dutch Airline and Northwest Airlines fly to. It has more partners and offers more benefits than any other Frequent Flyer Programme in the Indian Subcontinent.

A member starts earning JPMiles from the time he takes his first flight. JPMiles can also be earned when a passenger flies on Jet Airways' international partner airlines namely KLM Royal Dutch Airline and Northwest Airlines. A Jet Airways frequent flier member can also earn JPMiles through other programme partners that include 2500 hotels in, The Hilton Hhonors global network, 200 hotels in the Hyatt Hotels & Resorts global chain, The Leela Palaces & Resorts, ITC-Welcomgroup, The Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, The Park Hotels, Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Avis Rent a Car and The Economist magazine.

The benefits offered to a JP member include membership level bonuses, access to Club Premiere lounges at airports, tele check-in, extra baggage allowance over and above normal allowance, guaranteed reservations upto 24 hours before departure, check-in at Club Premiere desks and access to select KLM Lounges worldwide.

Apart from the above Jet Airways offers its members an opportunity to earn free flights even faster with Jet Airways Citibank Credit Cards. In association with Citibank N.A. and MasterCard International, this is the country's most innovative and rewarding airline co-branded credit card which is available in both Gold and Silver variants.

Meanehile, Patna, the capital of Bihar, will be the next new station on Jet Airways network. The airline will link Patna with Delhi by a daily evening flight operated by Next Generation Boeing 737-700 aircraft effective Monday (August 16). Patna will be the 44th destination on Jet Airways route network including the two international stations Colombo and Kathmandu.

Jet Airways operates a fleet comprising of 33 Classic and Next-Generation Boeing 737-400/700/800/900 aircraft and eight modern ATR 72-500 turbo-prop aircraft. With an average aircraft age of only four years the airline has one of the youngest aircraft fleet in Asia. Since inception on May 05, 1993 till end June 2004 Jet Airways has flown over 44.8 million passengers.

IA comes to infant's rescue

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 29: The public sector Indian Airlines is know for its humane touch. In its past several decades of existence, the airline has come to rescue of people in areas affected by the floods or earthquake or cyclone hit. It has also rescued Indians from abroad during contingencies like the Gulf War. During such contingencies, it has provided medicines and relief material free of cost.

The humane face of Indian Airlines was once again visible on Thursday night when the Commander of a flight IC 904 to Bangalore from New Delhi diverted the plane to save the life of an infant. Mrs Asma Khan and her 10-day-old baby Muhammed Ahmed, who was born with a critical heart ailment, accompanied by the baby's uncle Mr.Zahoor Ahmed Khan, who arrived by a PIA flight PK-270 from Lahore to Delhi at 1610 hrs of July 28 boarded Indian Airlines flight IC 904 to Bangalore where the infant was to undergo heart surgery.

The plane took off at 2000 hrs and on way the infant's condition deteriorated. The crew made an announcement calling for a doctor on board. A passenger Dr. G.Jayadevappa came forward and examined the infant with the help of the first aid equipment available on board and opined that the infant was in critical condition and needed to be shifted to hospital immediately.

Commander Capt. Sanjeev Marwah, popularly known as 'Bunty' Marwah, took on the spot decision, alerted Hyderabad and made an unscheduled landing at Hyderabad at 2205 hrs. The infant, with the help of Indian Airlines officials was rushed to Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences, in an ambulance of Airports Authority of India. The oxygen cylinder from the aircraft supported the infant till he reached the hospital.

Flight IC 904 finally landed in Bangalore at 2335 hrs instead of the scheduled arrival of 2220 hrs. Capt. Marwah's decision to land at Hyderabad was lauded by all the 142 passengers on board despite the inconvenience caused due the delay in reaching Bangalore.

The infant's condition is now stable, and he has been declared fit to travel under medical supervision to Bangalore on Thursday for surgery. He travelle by IC 961 leaving Hyderabad at 1830 hrs on Thursday, accompanied by a doctor and a nurse from the hospital and an IA official.

The Indian Airlines Airport Manager at Hyderabad and other officials called on the family and assured them of all assistance for their travel to Bangalore. In an interview to a television channel, Muhammad's mother and uncle have expressed deep sense of gratitude to Indian Airlines for going out of the way and arranging timely assistance.

Govt to infust funds into AI, IA

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, July 27: Keeping in view the long-pending demand of Indian Airlines and Air India, government has agreed in-principle to infuse funds to expand the equity base of the two public sector carriers for their fleet acquisition plans. It also agreed to "look into" the demand for reconsidering the 48 per cent Withholding Tax (WHT), a budget proposal, imposed on leasing of aircraft by any Indian company from a foreign firm.

Emerging out of a 30-minute meeting with Finance Minister P Chidambaram here, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told newsmen "the Finance Minister has agreed in-principle for equity infusion." The Kelkar Committee had recommended infusion of Rs 325 crore into Indian Airlines to enable it acquire aircraft.

While the IA has decided to buy 43 Airbus 319s, 320s and 321s, the Air India plans to acquire 18 aircraft and another 14 for its low-cost carrier, Air India Express.

Patel said he wanted equity in Air India to be enhanced from Rs 105 crore and in Indian Airlines from Rs 153 crore as part of efforts to expand the fleet of the two airlines since low equity base was coming in the way of acquiring more aircraft. "The final arrangement of equity infusion has to be worked out," he said, adding both the airlines would continue to lease ultra long range and medium capacity long-range aircraft.

AAI sets up control room to monitor strike

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 19: The Airports Authority of India (AAI) Chairman, Mr K Ramalingam, has set up a control room to monitor the strike called by the employees unions in protest against "privatisation" of Delhi and Mumbai airports.

Mr Ramalingam has also stated the AAI would evoke contingency plans depending on the situation. The Chairman has also appealed to the AAI Employees Joint Forum (AAIEJF) not to pursue the relay hunger strike and resume work in the interest of the organisation.

The unions are opposing the government move to modernise and restructure the Delhi and Mumbai airports.
On Monday, the Chairman also held a meeting of Heads of the Departments and appreciated efforts being put by them in dealing with the situation and called for confident building measures to thwart the strike.

Earlier on Saturday, the Member (Finance), AAI, Mr VDV Prasad Rao, held meeting with the recognised union and reportedly the ATC Guild had assured him not to disrupt air traffic services, according to Mr Premnath, General Manager, Communications, AAI.

Airlines fight for pie in the sky

By Deepak Arora

Air passengers never had it so good. Only a month after the domestic carriers had increased fares, the airlines - Jet, Sahara and Indian Airlines have slashed fares on certain routes by whopping 30 per cent. The fares have now come down to Second AC sleeper train prices. Those who can now plan a month in advance can enjoy a plane ride with kids in tow, save on long train journey time and utilize the extra time with friends and family and for tourism.

Before you read further. Hold your breath. A host of no-frills carriers are waiting in the wings to offer you still cheaper tickets. Air Deccan promises journey between metros like Delhi and Bangalore for an unbelievable price of Rs 500 only. The catch is that you have to book your flight three months in advance and you have to be among first five lucky ones. However, the next five lucky ones can pay Rs 100 extra to get the tickets and so on.

Private airline Air Sahara has reduced the airfares on the busy revenue-earning metro routes linking Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore. A return airfare between Delhi and Mumbai, two of India's largest cities, has been brought down to Rs 4,444 -- compared to Rs 4,420 for air-conditioned rail travel along the same route. The rock-bottom prices are subject to the tickets being purchased at least 30 days in advance. The other catch is that the passenger has to stay minimum one Sunday stay at a destination, cannot travel on Sunday and tickets are applicable for 90 days.

On the occasion of the launch of the new initiative called "SurPrices", the Air Sahara President and CEO, Mr Rono Joy Dutta said, "In the continuous endevour to expand the customer base, we at Air Sahara are ensuring that air travel is made extremely attractive and affordable for different segments of travelers." He further added," This initiative would give an opportunity to the train traveler to opt for air travel". He added the airline was planning to launch a "dynamic fare" model that would fix fares between various domestic destinations based on daily market demand.

Jet Airways has also announced the launch of its 30-day "monsoon super apex fares'' on some metro routes with immediate effect. They will be valid till September 15. It also announced special point-to-point fares; return excursion fares and promotional fares to Patna and Lucknow.

The new "monsoon super apex fares" are stated to be even lower than the "super apex fares" but are governed by the same terms and conditions. Passengers holding the super apex fare tickets may have these reissued to the monsoon super apex fares scheme to avail themselves of the additional benefits, provided the 30-day advance purchase requirement is fulfilled.

Jet Airways said that it would offer attractive travel deals that entail substantial savings over normal fares under its special monsoon point-to-point and return excursion fares in economy class valid from July 26 until October 15. Available on 56 and 26 sectors respectively, these would involve combination of travel to non-metro sectors via metro sectors or vice versa.

As an inaugural offer on Jet Airways' Delhi-Patna-Delhi flights, slated to start operations on August 16, passengers buying a return economy class ticket at Rs. 11,110 for this sector will be allowed to take a companion free of charge. On the Delhi-Lucknow-Delhi sectors, a special one-way economy class fare of Rs. 1,999 will be introduced from July 26, which will be valid till October 15. The existing normal economy class fare is Rs. 3,790.

Under the new scheme, an economy class ticket for Delhi-Mumbai will cost Rs. 2,500. For Delhi-Kolkata and Delhi-Hyderabad sectors, the fare will be Rs. 3,000 and for other sectors - Delhi-Bangalore, Delhi-Chennai, Kolkata-Mumbai, Kolkata-Bangalore and Kolkata-Chennai - Rs. 3,500. Under the special monsoon economy class return excursion fares, Delhi-Chennai-Madurai and vice versa a return ticket will come for Rs. 22,100, Delhi-Chennai-Port Blair for Rs. 22,100, Chennai-Delhi-Lucknow and vice versa also for Rs. 22,100.

Indian Airlines said that its 30-day and 21-day apex fares were comparable to that of Jet Airways and the special monsoon point-to-point economy class fare was comparable to IA's metro-non-metro concept. For example, it said, that on the Chennai-Kolkata-Guwahati sector the Jet Airways point-to-point economy class fare was Rs. 10,900, which was comparable to IA's normal metro-non-metro fare of Rs. 10,475 and D-7 apex metro-non-metro economy class fare of Rs. 6,955.

The steep drop came after leading domestic carrier, state-run Indian Airlines, announced that a passenger flying between two metros need pay only an extra Rs 1,000 to take a connecting flight to a smaller city. The scheme aims at tapping air travel demand among those living in smaller towns and cities who usually opt for road or railway travel. The scheme will extend to 224 destinations in India and will be valid until October 15 -- before the onset of the popular winter tourist season.

Jet Airways, Sahara and Indian Airlines command the largest share of the domestic aviation market, but upstart budget carrier Air Deccan has been snipping away at their share in the past year. Industry officials say Air Deccan has spooked the big three with ticket prices that are around 30 per cent lower than market rates. So far most of the airline's operations are restricted to flights between big metros and smaller cities, but the carrier plans to take on the major players soon with new aircraft on the main routes connecting big metros. The company has already announced a "Dynafare" scheme that will bring air tickets down to as low as Rs 500 to 700 on flights between major metros.

The airline has recently taken three Airbus 320 planes on lease to compliment its fleet of seven French-made ATR 48-seater aircraft with which it plans to start operations on metros. Air Deccan chief GR Gopinath has said he plans to keep cutting fares as the number of passengers for his airline rises.

Meanwhile, as many as nine low cost carriers have applied for licences and are readying for take off. These include India's reputed industrial groups United Breweries (UB), Wadias and garment manufacturer Bombay Dyeing. On Wednesday, UB signed a deal with European aircraft maker Airbus for the purchase of four planes and an option on eight more to boost its Kingfisher airline fleet.

The news is welcome for Indian travellers as flights to destinations abroad are often cheaper on foreign carriers than those within the country on domestic airlines. High fuel costs and other operating fees such as landing and parking charges, which account for up to 15 per cent on an airline's expenditure, have kept air fares high and grounded most carriers which have entered the domestic aviation sector when it opened up nearly a decade ago. The no-frills carriers plan to keep their overhead costs low by employing skeletal staff, serving sparse meals of sandwiches and apples and packing more seats inside an aircraft.

Cargo strike off at Delhi airport

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 20: Airports Authority of India (AAI) has resolved the strike at the Cargo terminal in the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA). The strike had paralysed the work at the terminal and had held up export consignments of about 1000 tonne of cargo worth Rs 400 crore. The strike was called off following intervention of the AAI Chairman, Mr K Ramalingam, and senior officials of Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Delhi Air Custom House Agent Employees Association has called off the strike on Tuesday, according to Mr Premnath, General Manager, PR, Airports Authority of India (AAI). The cargo clearing agents had commenced their four-day-old strike on July 16. The issue of non-association of CHA Employees in the process of X-ray screening by the Delhi Air CHA Employees was resolved at the highest-level meetings between the AAI and Delhi Air CHA Employees Association and in consultation with the other trade associations.

A large number export and import consignments had been held at the cargo terminal because of the strike. The consignments were also held up due to no post budget updations. However, General Manager (Cargo), AAI, has assured that all assistance would be given and working hours would be extended to clear the rush of export and import cargo.

The strike had held up export consignments of about 1000 tonne of cargo worth Rs 400 crore. "The strike has hit the exporters hard as they are not able to meet the delivery schedule," Garment Exporters Association president HKL Magu said in a statement. He said the international market is highly sensitive and competitive and if the consignments do not reach within the stipulated time, orders can be cancelled and the exporters will suffer substantial losses.

Left parties oppose 'privatisation' of airports

NEW DELHI, July 23: Opposing "privatisation" of Delhi and Mumbai airports, Left MPs have asked the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to "stall" the move and consider the "alternative proposal" for the purpose submitted by airport employees. "Such a move, in our position, is in violation of CMP", which stipulated that generally profit-making companies would not be privatised, the MPs, led by CPI(M) leader Nilotpal Basu, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, said in a letter to Dr Singh.

Asserting that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) was consistently making profits and had a reserve of over Rs 2,300 crore, they said "lack of transparency of purpose, as evident from contradictory statements of the Civil Aviation Ministry on the issue, has shrouded the whole process with mystery and suspicion".

Urging Prime Minister to start discussion on the "alternate proposal" submitted to him by AAI employees, they said "the sudden decision" to involve private domestic airlines as equity participants in the proposed joint venture "is a glaring instance of such non-transparency".

The other signatories were Debabrata Biswas (Forward Bloc), Manoj Bhattacharya and Abani Roy (RSP) and Dipankar Mukherjee (CPI-M). Meanwhile, the AAI Employees Joint Forum has submitted an "alternate plan" to the Prime Minister stating that AAI had in 1996 presented a feasibility report for development of Delhi and Mumbai airports to the Vajpayee government, which decided to privatise them instead.


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