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Air-India to launch non-stop from NY, Chicago to India

By Deepak Arora

NEW YORK: Indian national carrier, Air India, is gearing up to meet the competition from across the Atlantic. The airline plans to launch non-stop flights to the US from coming winter. This is being done to meet direct competition from two US-based carriers, American Airlines and Continental, who earlier last year launched direct flights from India to Chicago and Newark, New Jersey, respectively.

"Air India will launch non-stop from Chicago and JFK and Newark airports in New York from coming winter," Mr A K Mathur, Regional Manager, Air India, New York, told this correspondent in an exclusive tête-à-tête in his Manhattan office.

Mr Mathur said "the direct flight will reduce the travel time from New York to India to 14 hours and avoid the hassles of transiting from another European point." He said the non-stop flight would particularly help IT professionals as the two countries have a great IT relationship.

At present, Air India has 28 flights per week to India from the US. These include seven each from JFK Airport (New York), Newark (New Jersey), Chicago and Los Angeles. From JFK five flights are to Delhi and two to Mumbai via London. The flights from Newark are via Paris to Mumbai and Ahmedabad. From Chicago six flights are to Mumbai via Frankfurt and one via London to Delhi.

Mr Mathur said Air India has held on to its 25 per cent market share of the US-India market. However, he admitted that there has been marginal effect because of increasing competition from the American and European carriers. The people continue to repose faith in the Indian national carriers for being constantly accessible - a USP of the Air India.

Besides American Airlines and Continental, Delta has 14 flights out of JFK with seven each per week to Mumbai and Chennai. NorthWest has seven flights to Mumbai and has code share with KLM for seven flights per week to Delhi.

Another factor that went in favour of Air India was that the airline held on to its winter schedule to New Delhi. In other words, there was no diversion of flights going to Delhi to other Indian destinations due to fog that affects the Indira Gandhi International Airport during winter. "It is for this reason the Northern Indian market did not suffer."

He said Air India would be flying Boeing 777-200 LR for non-stop flights to India. Boeing 777 are among the 68 aircraft Air India has ordered from the US aircraft manufacturer, Boeing. The order covers 23 Boeing 777s, including eight 777-200LR (Longer Range) Worldliners and 15 777-300ERs (Extended Range) and 27 Boeing 787-800 Dreamliners. Air India Express, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Air-India, will receive 18 Next-Generation 737-800s.

Air India currently has a fleet strength of 38, including 22 aircraft on lease. Air-India Express operates three aircraft, which are on lease too. The new purchases will support the airline's expansion plans. The 777s will replace the airline's current fleet of 747-200s airplanes while the 787-800 Dreamliner will replace its aging A310 fleet.

After signing an agreement with the Boeing Commercial Airplane President and CEO, Mr Alan Mulally, in Mumbai on January 11, the Air-India Chairman and Managing Director, Mr V Thulasidas, said that these 68 aircraft will be acquired in a phased manner between November 2006 and 2011.

The move follows the green signal from the empowered group of ministers for Air-India's aircraft purchase proposal, the largest-ever by an Indian carrier, after securing a financial discount of about Rs 1000 crore ($222 million).

Air-India also secured Boeing's commitment for investment in regional maintenance, repair and overhaul base and pilot training facility in India, said Mr Thulasidas.
He said the new fleet would help the national carrier to not only significantly expand and modernize its fleet, but also help in offering passengers an unprecedented comfort and flights on several new routes through expansion of network.

Mr Mathur said B 777-200 LR (Long Range) is the world's longest range commercial jetliner and is capable of connecting any two cities in the world non-stop. He said B 787 Dreamliner will burn 20 per cent less fuel and have 30 per cent lower maintenance cost as compared to a similar size plane.

Boeing's Senior Vice President, Dinesh Keskar, predicts that India will account for 492 aircraft worth $36 billion over the next 20 years. "This would mean a lot of business opportunities from this region for aircraft manufacturers in the coming years," he said. Apart from the deal with state-run Air India, Boeing got orders for 20 aircraft from Jet Airways, 10 from SpiceJet and three from the Indian Air Force, which will use the jets to transport VVIPs.

In fact, the past one year Boeing struck sales deals worth $ 15 billion in India alone. He said "India will continue to drive its order books in the future. 'India contributed almost 12 percent of our total business of $120 billion in 2005," said Keskar. The orders from India were the largest for any aircraft manufacturer.

With stiff competition from the French consortium Airbus Industrie, especially in long-range aircraft variants, Boeing is reaching all out for the Indian market. From agreeing to set up maintenance hubs, the US aircraft major is gearing up for various support services in the region to woo existing operators and to attract those who are waiting to take wings.

"We have already announced commitments for various services facilities in India for which we would put in some $185 million in phases," Keskar said. This will include a maintenance, repair and overhaul base, and a pilot training facility. The maintenance facility will cost $100 million and result in such activities being conducted in India, rather than having to fly to Bangkok, the Boeing executive said. A decision on the location of the facility will be taken soon.

Boeing will also set up four simulators for training pilots in India at a cost of $75 million, Keskar said. They will be operational by next year. 'Pilots will be able to get trained in handling cockpits of different Boeing aircraft variants, and at the same time, get equipped in flying during fog and other adverse weather,' he said.

Boeing, Airbus grab record orders in 2005

By Deepak Arora

NEW YORK: The year 2005 was the best year for the world's two largest aircraft manufacturers - Airbus and Boeing. However, the France-based Airbus beat its American archrival Boeing for the fifth straight year by 1,055 to 1,002 orders.

The companies' combined orders of 2,057 handily beat the 1,631 net orders received in 1989. Net orders account for cancellations. While Airbus nearly doubled its previous record year in 1998, Chicago-based Boeing surpassed its previous record of 877 orders in 1988.

The plane makers achieved their record-breaking year largely because of rapidly expanding aviation markets in Asia and Middle East. India and China led the growth worldwide. While Airbus bagged orders from Indian Airlines, Air Deccan, Kingfisher and Jet Airways, Boeing got huge success in terms of 68 aircraft order from national carrier, Air India, and Spice Jet and Jet Airways.

Airbus also got a boost in orders from China, when it bought 150 single-aisle A-320 models during a visit to Paris in December by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert said airlines "have never ... placed so many orders, a sign that they are very optimistic about the future of air transportation."

"Airlines have never, ever placed so many orders, a sign that they are very optimistic about the future of air transportation, with also a lot of new carriers emerging and bringing cheap air travel to an increasing number of consumers," said Humbert. "But it also reflects the need for more modern equipment to face the rising fuel prices."

Liu Weimin, director and professor with the Aviation Laws Research Centre at the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China, said "China and India, two developing economies in Asia, are the markets that need to be closely watched. With their economies growing fast, the two countries witnessed surging demand for air transportation."

"What this says to me is, the recovery is in full swing," said Randy Baseler, vice-president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "Air travel is growing in leaps and bounds, and airlines and nations are investing in new aircraft to accommodate that growth. Regardless of Boeing versus Airbus issues, this is good news for everyone who works in or supports the commercial aircraft industry," Baseler said.

While struggling with rising aviation fuel costs, airlines are searching for the best balance point between cost control and quality improvement, Liu said. "It's true that buying new aircraft means new investment, but new aircrafts are more efficient in fuel consumption and require less maintenance," said Liu.

That Airbus took the lead in orders comes as a surprise, because Chicago-based Boeing had the lead at the end of November, says Paul Nisbet, an analyst at JSA Research. After four years of trailing in orders, Boeing appeared poised to finally surpass Airbus in 2005.

Nisbet said he hadn't expected Airbus to book in 2005 the big Chinese government order last month. Boeing received a similar government order last fall for 150 planes but doesn't consider them firm until individual Chinese airlines sign contracts and pay deposits, says Boeing executive Randy Baseler. Boeing counted only 50 of the planes from the China order in its 2005 tally.

As expected, Airbus trumped Boeing for the third year in a row in the number of planes delivered to customers in 2005, an important figure because sales revenue is booked on delivery. Airbus delivered 378 planes, vs. 290 for Boeing. A Boeing factory-worker strike last September halted production for much of the month and slowed deliveries.

But Boeing outperformed Airbus in another key gauge of performance - the value of orders. Boeing sold more wide-body planes, which are more expensive than single-aisle models. Boeing sold 447 wide-body jets last year. Airbus took in 193 orders for wide-bodies.

The long-range, fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner, viewed by Boeing as its future, far outsold the comparable class of Airbus planes. And airline customers were drawn to Boeing's 777 because it is more fuel-efficient than the A-340, its Airbus counterpart, Nisbet says.

Humbert sounded relaxed about the Airbus A380, which added only 20 new orders in 2005. The double-decker plane that seats 555 people has been delayed by production glitches. But Charles Champion, the head of the program, said that the plane had made 220 test flights and that he expected no further delays.

Airbus plans to deliver the first A380 to Singapore Airlines by the end of 2006, and to Qantas and Emirates next year. John Leahy, the chief operating officer and head salesman for Airbus, said the company expected to sign up two new airlines for the A380 this year. After the jet goes into service, he predicted, there would be a second wave of orders for the plane, which has 16 customers and 159 orders.

Airbus executives were more cautious about the prospects for 2006, and Humbert said it was unlikely that the industry would enjoy two record years in a row. Privately, some executives worry that high fuel prices, plus higher US and European interest rates, will make it difficult for airlines to buy new planes.

Boeing's Baseler said 2005 was a special year and that a 1,000-plus level of orders is not sustainable. But with finances of US airlines seeming to improve, and larger European carriers poised to order more planes in 2006, the companies should still book a healthy number of orders, he added.

Boeing to invest $175 mn in India, gets firm order

MUMBAI, Jan 12: The US aviation giant, Boeing, will invest $185 million in facilities in India and source 85 billion rupees in products and services over a period of 10 years, India's civil aviation minister said on Wednesday.

The Chicago-based aerospace company will spend $100 million on a repair, maintenance and overhaul facility and $75 million on a pilot training facility, with a further $10 million on other facilities, Praful Patel told a news conference. State-run Air-India also on Wednesday finally placed a firm order with Boeing for 68 aircraft.

"The introduction of these aircraft will allow Air-India to expand and modernise its fleet, effect cost savings and add new long-range routes," Air-India Chairman V. Thulasidas said at the joint news conference.

The Indian cabinet in December approved Air-India's plans to buy up to 68 aircraft from Boeing, subject to final talks on price. The proposal was referred to a ministerial group to work out details, including a price reduction. The aircraft are valued at more than $11 billion in total at list price, according to a statement from Boeing. When Air-India's board approved the purchase of 50 aircraft last April, the deal was valued at $6.9 billion.

The final value of the deal was not disclosed on Wednesday, but Thulasidas said the $1.9 billion worth of goods and services that Boeing will buy represented about 30 percent of the value of the order. Experts put the plane order at about $6.3 billion. Boeing said it would also look at India's participation in design and manufacture of aircraft parts in the long term.

"We have done a deal with HCL Technologies for software for the 787, and we will be doing more such deals," Alan Mulally, chief executive, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told the news conference. Boeing has an existing deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., a research deal with the Indian Institute of Science, and software services agreements with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. and Wipro Ltd.

The Boeing order comprises 23 777s - including eight long-range and 15 extended range aircraft - and 27 of the widebody Dreamliner, due to enter service in 2008. Air-India Express, the budget airline, will receive 18 737-800s. Delivery of the aircraft will begin in November 2006.

Boeing, whose commercial plane orders more than tripled to a record 1,002 in 2005 on demand from Asia and the Middle East, has said it expects India to buy 490 aircraft over the next two decades as cheaper fares and growing traffic fuel demand.

India's domestic air travel market is forecast to grow more than 20 percent a year over the next five years as incomes rise in Asia's third-biggest economy and fares fall as new discount carriers launch in an increasingly crowded space. Airlines flew an estimated 19 million domestic passengers in India in the year to March 2005.

Air-India, which has not bought aircraft since 1996, has faced intense competition from domestic private carriers that can now fly overseas routes and from international airlines that have stepped up their services to and from India. Air-India and the domestic state carrier, Indian Airlines, are scheduled to make an initial public offering later this year.

Delhi airport landing system upgraded

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: For the planeloads of passengers grounded here by thick fog day in and day out over this past week, there is some good news. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) said on Monday that the landing system at Indira Gandhi International airport has been upgraded from CAT-III A to CAT III B Instrument Landing System (ILS), enabling take-offs and landings in very low visibility conditions.

It said the ILS for the main runway at the airport was calibrated to conform to international ICAC specifications. The runway markings and the airfield lighting systems have been upgraded to meet the requirements of CAT-III B operations.

The new system would enable operations in a visibility range of 50 metres to 200 metres as against the present CAT-III A that caters to the range of 200 to 400 metres. However, barring the public sector Indian Airlines, which has nearly a dozen pilots trained to operate in the CAT-III B system, private domestic carriers do not have many pilots who can operate in such low visibility. But pilots of international carriers such as Air France and KLM have reportedly expressed satisfaction with the electronically guided ILS, saying it was stable and the ATC support was "very professional".

For detecting the aircraft and vehicles on aircraft movement areas and to ensure adequate separation between aircraft and vehicles, a new facility, Surface Movement Radar (SMR), has been installed. The system provides a controller display at the control tower wherein the positions of vehicles in the manoeuvring area are displayed with the help of a transponder mounted on vehicles. The vehicle locator or the transponder provides a tag attached to the target blip indicating not only the position of the vehicle but other data as well. Similar tags can also be attached to the aircraft. The location of the aircraft and the vehicles are superimposed on the airfield grid map generated electronically in the radar.

In addition to getting guidance through documented procedures for operations and maintenance, the controllers and maintenance personnel have familiarised themselves with the system during the 10-day trial period when it was undergoing assessment for its operational adequacy. The whole system has been checked in actual operating environment with the help of an aircraft and vehicles for its adequacy during a trial conducted on December 20 where AAI representatives and the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) were present.

A mock drill was also conducted two days later where the adequacy of low visibility procedures promulgated, the coordination procedures and the operational needs were all confirmed. The system was handed over for operational use with effect from Saturday.

Indian Minister bags Sydney aviation award

SYDNEY: Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has been awarded the Aviation Minister of the Year award by a Sydney based group for his contribution to the progress of aviation in the Asia Pacific region.

Kingfisher Airlines won the New Airline of the Year award given by consultancy group the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) and supported by Malaysia Tourism.

"The Indian Civil Aviation Minister has demonstrated leadership in aviation liberalisation, with far reaching consequences for the global aviation market," the awardees said.

"In 2005, Indian government signed an open skies agreement with the US and signed liberalised bilateral deals with the UK, Germany, France, China, Singapore, Qatar, Canada and others."

The awardees also lauded India's plans for $10 billion airport modernisation, fleet expansion, public offering for Indian Airlines and Air India and support given to boost domestic low cost carrier entrants.

The Indian High Commissioner in Malaysia RL Narayan collected the award on behalf of Patel.

The awards based on the recommendations of industry experts selected Beijing Capital International Airport for the Airport of the year Award, Jetstar for the Low-cost Airline of the year and All Nippon Airways as the Turnaround Airline of the year.

Security relief for air travelers on the cards

By Deepak Arora

NEW YORK, Dec 3: With new security measures in place, the United States Administration plans to allow passengers to take some of the items such as small scissors and screwdrivers aboard planes again, The step is expected to bring in some relief for the passengers just before the Christmas holiday season.

US Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley has announced the change will take effect December 22 and is part of a broader effort aimed at having screeners spend more of their time searching for explosives rather than small, sharp objects that don't pose as great a risk.

Passengers also can expect more randomness at security gates so would-be terrorists won't know for sure what they will see. For example, an airport might require all passengers to remove their shoes one day but not the next.

"It is paramount to the security of our aviation system that terrorists will not be able to know with certainty what screening procedures they will encounter at airports around the nation," Hawley said. "By incorporating unpredictability into our procedures and eliminating low-threat items, we can better focus our efforts on stopping individuals who wish to do us harm."

Among the items no longer prohibited from airliner cabins: scissors 4 inches or less, and tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers that are smaller than 7 inches.

Flight attendants and some lawmakers have said the changes undermine security. Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., said they intend to introduce a bill to preserve the current list of items barred from the cabin.

"The Bush administration proposal is just asking the next Mohamed Atta to move from box cutters to scissors as the weapon that's used in the passenger cabin of planes," Markey said, referring to the leader of the September 11 hijackers.

Justin Green is an attorney for the families of three flight attendants who died aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which hijackers crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. Two of the flight attendants, Bobbi Arestegui and Karen Martin, were stabbed by the terrorists. The third, Betty Ong, reported what was happening during the hijacking in a telephone call to authorities on the ground.

"The families are outraged that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is planning on letting weapons back on board," Green said.

Airlines generally support Hawley's plan. So does the pilots' largest union, the Airline Pilots Association. Bob Hesselbein, the union's national security committee chairman, said pilots think it's more important to focus on passengers' intent rather than what they're carrying.

"A Swiss army knife in the briefcase of a frequent flyer we know very well is a tool," Hesselbein said. "A ballpoint pen in the hands of a terrorist is a weapon."

TSA screeners this year alone have confiscated 12.6 million prohibited items, including 3 million sharp objects, according to the Homeland Security Department.

They've also taken away 8.1 million lighters, the only item prohibited by law. Congress, concerned that terrorists would have an easier time igniting a bomb with a lighter than with matches, enacted the ban. It took effect April 14.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee's aviation panel, agrees with Hawley that screeners should be looking for explosives rather than small, sharp objects that could be used as weapons.

"You have a huge army of pilots that are now armed, you have significant numbers of federal air marshals, you have secure cockpit doors, you have an alert public," Mica said. "Terrorists aren't dumb; they can see what the weakness in the system is."

More than 18,000 screeners have been trained on advanced explosives detection techniques, Mica said.

But Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee's aviation panel, objected to the policy shift. In a letter to Hawley, she wrote that the change "could undermine the progress we have made in securing our skies since the 9/11 attacks. Security demands vigilance; we cannot become complacent."

Markey said the TSA is presenting the public a false choice. If there aren't enough screeners to check for sharp objects and bombs, he said, then more screeners should be hired.

The Association of Flight Attendants supports Markey's initiative. So does the Southwest Airlines flight attendants' union, Transport Workers Local 556. "I have not spoken to a flight attendant at any airline that isn't outraged by this," said Thom McDaniel, the local's president.

McDaniel said the premise for the policy change is ludicrous. "They want to focus more on explosives, but they're not even mentioning that the biggest threat to commercial aviation right now is still the fact that most cargo is not screened."

Air India to launch non-stop flights between Pune and Dubai

MUMBAI, Nov 26: Effective December 12, Air India will launch a non-stop flight between Pune and Dubai. The new flight, AI-719-718, will be operated on the Mumbai-Pune-Dubai-Pune-Mumbai route with 201-seater Airbus 310 aircraft on thrice-weekly basis - on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

The flight will depart from Pune at 1515 hours arriving in Dubai at 1655 hours, and on the return leg, it will depart from Dubai at 1800 hours and reach Pune at 2225 hours (Local timings. Time Difference : 1 hr & 30 minutes).

The new flight will provide to the people of Pune and neighbouring areas direct and convenient connectivity to Dubai. Commencement of international operations from Pune will thus obviate the need for them to travel to Mumbai for taking an international flight to Dubai. Passengers boarding or deplaning in Pune will be able to complete their immigration and customs formalities at their city airport, both at the time of departure and arrival.

Augmentation of fleet through dry-leasing, pending acquisition of aircraft, has enabled Air India to gradually expand its network. As against 25 weekly flights from India to Dubai prior to April 2003, there are now 42 weekly services to Dubai. Whilst Air India operates 28 flights to Dubai from Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Lucknow and Thiruvananthapuram, daily services to Dubai from Kochi and Kozhikode are operated by Air India Express.

With the introduction of the new service, Pune will become Air India's 14th online station in India. In its ever-growing quest for providing direct services from various points in India, Air-India currently operates flights from Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Lucknow and Thiruvananthapuram.

Tourism industry welcomes PM's 'Open sky" offer to SAARC

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 21: Indian aviation and tourism industry has welcomed Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's bold move to open up the sky in South Asia. At the recent SAARC Summit in Dhaka, the Prime Minister had unilaterally offered all SAARC nations the facility of mounting daily air services to six metros and an unlimited number to 18 other major destinations on a reciprocal basis.

India also announced the offer of granting Fifth Freedom Rights to all designated carriers of SAARC nations, under which these airlines could pick up passengers from Indian cities and fly off to third countries.

Announcing this at the 13th SAARC Summit, Dr Singh had said New Delhi was "prepared to offer to all SAARC neighbours, on a reciprocal basis and without prejudice to existing rights, the facility of daily air services by designated airlines to out metropolitan cities ... and as many services as they wish to eighteen other destinations all across India".

This is a move for greater economic integration in South Asia much on the lines of what exits with ASEAN countries. It was former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee who had taken a similar initiative with ASEAN countries two years ago. As a result, all ASEAN members today have the rights to operate seven flights a week to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai besides getting unlimited access to 18 destinations in India.

The metro cities offered were Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad. "I would also like to offer to the designated airlines of SAARC countries the facility to exercise Fifth Freedom rights, both intermediate and beyond, within the SAARC region, on a reciprocal basis.

"We should encourage more air services and for this it may be worthwhile to provide, in our air agreements, multiple designation of airlines," the Prime Minister said.

Welcoming the Prime Minister's initiative, the Chairman of New Airways, Mr Balbir Mayal, said this was a very positive sign for increase of tourism within the SAARC region.

Complementing the Prime Minister for this bold initiative, the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) President, Mr Subhash Goyal, said "it shows the vision and leadership role that Indian can have in the South Asian countries."

Mr Goyal, who is also Chairman of Stic Travels, said "the very fact that even the fifth freedom rights have been offered is commendable. This will enable India to regain its past glory of being the economic and tourism leader of the region."

The IATO President hoped that apart from the metros, the SAARC airlines would try to go to other secondary cities so that there was even distribution of tourism flow and the towns and cities do not suffer due to lack of rooms.

Mr Subhash Verma, Chairman (Northern Region), Travel Agents Association of India, also endorsed and welcomed the Prime Minister's initiative. He said this step would not only help improve political relations with our neighbours, but would also encourage people-to-people contacts and tourism in the region.

Besides a boost to regional tourism, Mr Vijay Thakur, Vice President, IATO, said such a bold initiative would be an incentive to private sector to invest in small airports and increase competition among different States to develop airports.

It may be mentioned that in the case of South Asia, India has a very liberal arrangement with Sri Lanka but the same cannot be said for the entire region. From an Indian standpoint, this would mean removing restrictions for private carriers to operate and generally allow more flexibility in passenger and freight operations.

Mr Balbir Mayal also called for rail and road connectivity to boost tourism in the region. "When on can easily travel by rail and road within Europe, why can't we do so in our region," he added.

Mr Mayal also called for dismantling of visa regime. "We should do away with the requirement of visas. Similarly, local currency should be accepted," he said and added "such bold initiatives will encourage people to travel within the region instead of rushing to expensive US and European destinations." While also emphasizing on road connectivity, Mr Vijay Thakur said such a step would give birth to mass tourism with the SAARC region.

Given that connectivity remains a problem in South Asia, the Indian initiative could be an important step. The SAARC Secretariat has already commissioned a SAARC Regional Multimodal Transport Study to the Asian Development Bank. The study has identified four key areas: road, rail and inland water transport; land ports that can act as major gateways for overland traffic; civil aviation, which will involve identifying key air routes; and, identifying key shipping routes.

Air India launches new intiatives

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 15: Air India, which is effecting major changes in its product and profile, is going all out to woo its high yield passengers. After announcing the Companion Free Scheme effective November 1, 2005, the airline has now -- effective November 15, 2005 -- announced the Premium Traveller Programme for First and Executive Class passengers travelling to New York, Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, London and Birmingham.

Under this new marketing initiative, First and Executive Class passengers travelling between India and USA/Canada, and First Class passengers flying Air India between India and UK can look forward to receiving a complimentary Executive Class ticket for travel between India and Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Dubai, or for a domestic sector in India. Executive Class passengers travelling between India and the UK will be entitled to a complimentary Executive Class return ticket for a domestic sector in India or an Economy Class ticket between India and Kuala Lumpur.

Those availing of the complimentary ticket must commence their outbound travel between November 15 this year and March 31 next. The complimentary ticket, with the applicable taxes/fuel surcharge payable by the passenger, would, however, need to be availed within six months of completion of travel on the paid ticket or by September 30 next year, whichever is earlier.

A similar scheme for complimentary tickets has also been introduced for those purchasing tickets in the UK/USA/Canada for travel to India. First and Executive Class passengers who purchase tickets in USA/Canada will have the option of availing the complimentary Executive Class ticket for return travel between USA/Canada and UK/Europe. Likewise, First and Executive Class passengers who purchase tickets in UK for travel to India will receive an Executive Class ticket or an Economy Class ticket respectively for travel between UK and USA/Canada.

India offers SAARC nations facility of daily flights

DHAKA, Nov 12: In a bold move to open up the sky in South Asia, India on Saturday unilaterally offered all SAARC nations the facility of mounting daily air services to six metros and an unlimited number to 18 other major destinations on a reciprocal basis.

It also announced the offer of granting Fifth Freedom Rights to all designated carriers of SAARC nations, under which these airlines could pick up passengers from Indian cities and fly off to third countries.

Announcing this at the 13th SAARC Summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said New Delhi was "prepared to offer to all SAARC neighbours, on a reciprocal basis and without prejudice to existing rights, the facility of daily air services by designated airlines to out metropolitan cities ... and as many services as they wish to eighteen other destinations all across India".

This is a move for greater economic integration in South Asia much on the lines of what exits with ASEAN countries. It was former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who had taken a similar initiative with ASEAN countries two years ago. As a result, all ASEAN members today have the rights to operate seven flights a week to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai besides getting unlimited access to 18 destinations in India.

The metro cities offered were Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad. "I would also like to offer to the designated airlines of SAARC countries the facility to exercise Fifth Freedom rights, both intermediate and beyond, within the SAARC region, on a reciprocal basis.

"We should encourage more air services and for this it may be worthwhile to provide, in our air agreements, multiple designation of airlines," the Prime Minister said

In the case of South Asia, India has a very liberal arrangement with Sri Lanka but the same cannot be said for the entire region. From an Indian standpoint, this would mean removing restrictions for private carriers to operate and generally allow more flexibility in passenger and freight operations.

Given that connectivity remains a problem in South Asia, the Indian initiative could be an important step. The SAARC Secretariat has already commissioned a SAARC Regional Multimodal Transport Study to the Asian Development Bank. The study has identified four key areas: road, rail and inland water transport; land ports that can act as major gateways for overland traffic; civil aviation, which will involve identifying key air routes; and, identifying key shipping routes.

India, US flying high after historic pact

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: The US-India aviation relationship has come of age with new air services expanding rapidly to cement the strong relationship between the two countries. In today's world, aviation links are essential for connecting people and transporting cargo across the globe. In ancient times, civilization grew around waterways and roadways. Today's civilizations thrive around aviation links.

To cater to the rapidly increasing number of Indians traveling abroad, the air services between India and the US and the other destinations have been rising rapidly. The recent launch of historic non-stop flight by Continental from New Delhi to New York speaks of the growing aviation business between the two great democracies. American Airlines, in cooperation with Air Sahara, is also commencing non-stop flight between Delhi and Chicago next week.

Traditionally, the overseas Indian traveler has been lured by the United Kingdom and the US as their preferred destinations. Some of the other destinations that have of recent become popular due to affordability and close proximity are Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Market studies reveal that the largest flow of passenger traffic of 2.5 million has been between India and the US. This is followed by 1.6 million traveling between India and the UK, 2.2 million traveling between India and Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and 1 million traveling between India and France and Germany.

The non-stop flights of Continental Airways and American Airways and rapid increase in number of flights by Air India at affordable cost between India and the US speaks of growing ties between the two countries.

In April this year, the US Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta traveled to New Delhi to sign with Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel the historic US--India Open Skies Agreement. "This was a landmark event in U.S.-India relations. It signaled an important new dimension of the US--India relationship," according to the US Ambassador, Mr David Mulford.

Ambassador Mulford said "this Open Skies agreement removes virtually all significant restrictions and therefore offers many benefits to both sides. It provides for open routes, unrestricted capacity, and frequencies, and market-based pricing. It also provides opportunities for cooperative marketing arrangements, including bilateral code sharing with domestic Indian carriers. All-cargo carriers will now be permitted to operate to either country without necessarily originating shipments in their homeland."

He said this Agreement would catalyze new services, new partnerships, innovation and lower prices - to the benefit of the economies, businesses and citizens. On the launch of non-stop flight by Continental, Ambassador Mulford said "If this route proves as successful for Continental as we believe it will, I hope Continental will consider other US-India direct connections."

The new Open Skies Air Transport Agreement replaces a 1956 agreement that had restricted the airlines' choices on the number of flights, the cities that could be served and the prices charged. Now the airlines of both countries can utilise an additional half-a-million seats every year. All government interventions and regulations of business decisions have been removed except for normal safety and traffic management needs.

Low and affordable fares have been responsible for developing new travel markets. Airfares to Southeast Asian countries have dropped so low that they have increasingly emerged as family holiday destinations for the Indian traveller for over two years now. In fact, as the Indian traveller now has a choice of travel to these destinations at not only affordable prices, but also from a number of Indian gateway cities that they may even skip a visit to their hometowns for short breaks or vacations and instead opt for overseas travel.

Airfares between India and the US and the UK have also come down significantly. As its pre-launch offer to its November 3 non-stop flight, Continental had announced an offer of Rs 38,000. The similar offer is available in the market for soon to be launched American Airways flights. The normal economy class fare between the US and India is Rs 50,000. Continental is now offering a seat for Rs 45,000. The fares between India and the UK have reached a new low of Rs 19,000.

From the Indian side, private carriers, Air Sahara and Jet Airways are contemplating to launch flights to the US. The Indian flag carrier, Air India, is also planning to increase the number of flights to the US destinations.

Delhi perfectly safe to travel: Continental Chief

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Nov 3: "Delhi is perfectly safe to travel," said Mr Jeffery Smisek, President of Continental Airlines, which has just launched first ever non-stop flight between India and the US.

Mr Smisek, who had arrived here on Thursday on the historic non-stop flight from New York to New Delhi, said "safety is our first priority. Flights to Delhi are perfectly safe. With regard to safety, we work in tandem with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and other local security agencies to make our flights absolutely safe."

He was responding to a question on a warden message from the US embassy to American citizens following three bomb blasts in Delhi that claimed 59 lives and injured over 150 persons. The message asked the American citizens to maintain a low profile and to avoid crowded markets and other public places in metropolitan Delhi.

Mr Smisek said "the launch of the daily Delhi-New York service shows how globalisation is creating new opportunities for travel and trade. Bringing our award-winning service to India is also the perfect culmination of a year of unprecedented international expansion by Continental."

Jim Summerford, Vice President (Europe, Middle East and India) said the non-stop flight would cut travel time between Delhi and New York by over two and half hours. Delhi is the sixth trans-Atlantic route launched by Continental in 2005, consolidating its position as the leading US carrier across the Atlantic in terms of the number of cities served - 25 in 14 countries.

Joining Smisek and Jim Summerford at the launch celebrations at Delhi's Indira Gandhi Internatinal Airport were Delhi Chief Minister, Mrs Shiela Dikshit and the US Ambassador, Mr David C Mulford.

Mr Laurent Recoura, Senior Country Director (India), said Continental's non-stop flights are operated with 283-seat Boeing 777-200 ER aircraft, carrying 48 passengers in the Business First cabin and 235 in economy. The economy class return fare is Rs 45,000 and BusinessFirst is Rs 1.25 lakhs.

Mr John E "Ned" Walker, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Corporate Communications, said the Delhi flights are conveniently timed to connect at New York/ Newark with an extensive network of service throughout the US, Canada and Latin America.

Besides New Delhi, Mr Nick Britton, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications (Europe, Middle East and India), said the other long haul non-stop flights from New York are to Hong Kong, Beijing, Tel Aviv and Tokyo and from Houston to Tokyo.

He said Continental Airlines is the world's sixth-largest airline. Continental, together with Continental Express and Continental Connection, has more than 3,000 daily departures throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, serving 151 domestic and 133 internatinal destinations, more than any other carrier in the work.

Mr Britton said nearly 400 additional points are served via SkyTeam alliance airlines, which include Aeromexico, Air France/KLM, AlItalia, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta Airlines, Korean Air and Northwest Airlines.

Festival bonanza for airlines; no change in airfares

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: The festival season has brought in fresh cheers for airlines. While the oil companies have reduced the aviation turbine fuel (ATF) price by 1.8 per cent, the Government has postponed till next fiscal its decision to impose withholding tax on leased planes.

The withholding tax (WHT) exemption for additional six months till March 31, 2006 would make leasing of aircraft from foreign companies economical. An ordinance issued on Monday last made necessary amendments in the Income Tax Act for this purpose. The Government, which had decided to do away with the exemption in the budget this year, extended it first for six months till September to benefit airlines, particularly Indian Airlines and Air India, following representation from them.

With these airlines still on a leasing spree to meet their increasing operation of flights including some new destinations, the Government has extended this tax benefit for another six months till the end of this fiscal. Indian Airlines and Air India are reported to be planning lease of aircraft including Airbus 320, A-319 and Boeing 777 aircraft to meet the market demand till the acquisition of new aircraft.

While Indian Airlines would be buying 43 aircraft from Airbus at a cost Rs 9,000 crores, Air India and Air India express would be purchasing 68 aircraft from Boeing at a cost of Rs 40,000 crores for their expansion and replacement of some old aircraft.

Industry watchers feel that the postponement of withholding tax would help airlines maintain the fares at the present level. "The extension of the date for levying withholding tax would give airlines some more time to finalise their leasing deals. The additional tax burden would have meant another round of fare hikes and since this burden has been put off for some time, the fares are expected to maintained at the current levels," said an analyst.

The aircraft lease withholding tax would now come into effect from April 1 next year and it would work out to a staggering 42 per cent. Put simply, if an airline takes a 180-seater Airbus A320s on lease from April next year, it will have to shell out an additional $12,000-15,000 per month per aircraft. And if it were smaller aircraft such as the 50-seater ATRs, the additional damage would be to the tune of around $5,000 a month per aircraft.

Although, the marginal cut in aviation fuel prices would help the airlines pare their costs by about one per cent, it would not have any impact on airfares. The ATF price cut comes after the international crude oil price fell to $55.41 a barrel on October 31 - down 11.74 per cent from its all-time high of $62.78 a barrel on September 1. The average price of the Indian crude oil basket in October was $56.28 a barrel compared with the average price of $59.74 in September.

Airlines are of the view that the cut in prices is too little for them to pass on to consumers, especially after a series of price increases over the last six months. "The fuel prices have hiked from Rs 27,000 to Rs 38,000 in the past four months and the cut ranging from Rs 650 to Rs 740 per kilolitre is too little," says an airline official.

The slash in ATF prices for domestic airlines ranges from Rs 650 per kl to Rs 745 per kl, said an official of Indian Oil Corp, country's largest oil firm. The new prices came into effect from November 1. For international airlines, who do not have to pay local levies on the fuel, the cut would be between 25 to 26 dollars per kl.

In the last two months alone, ATF prices have gone up twice, 10 per cent on each occasion. None of the airlines have been planning a cut in fares. "We had not increased fares the last two times, when the ATF prices went up. We had absorbed the cost. The reduction is marginal for us to pass on to customers," said an Indian Airlines official.

Similarly, budget carrier Air Deccan is also not cutting fares. "We had not added the fuel surcharge when fuel prices went up. We will not cut fares," said an Air Deccan official. "The net savings that we make are minimal. We are not considering a cut in ticket prices now," said Ajay Singh, Director, SpiceJet. For SpiceJet, which imposed an Rs 500 fuel surcharge last month, the fuel bill accounts for nearly 35 per cent of its expenditure.

However, experts say that Indians still enjoy low airfares. Air passengers in the Asia Pacific region continue to reap the benefits of the fare war unleashed by the world's leading airlines despite mounting cost of the aviation fuel, according to the third quarter American Express Airfare Index for the Asia Pacific region in 2005.

The AEAI index has revealed modest reduction in airfares compared to the previous quarter in most classes of travel on routes from India, Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong and for business class airfares from New Zealand. "India is one of the few countries in the region where air fares have become cheaper during the last quarter," it said.

Modest increases were recorded on routes from Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore and for First Class and Economy fares from New Zealand. Airfares from Japan and Pakistan, however, either remained unchanged or marginally changed, the index said. The index indicated that in India first class airfares fell 0.7 per cent in Q3, 2005. Business class airfares from India fell by 0.6 per cent and economy airfares fell 0.7 per cent as did discount economy airfares.

The overall index for Asia Pacific region indicated that over the past quarter first class airfares across the region decreased on an average by 0.1 per cent, business class and discount economy airfares fell 0.3 per cent while full economy dropped by 0.2 per cent. The highly restricted lowest peak season excursion airfares increased by 0.4 per cent while lowest off-season excursion airfares increased by 0.2 per cent, the index said.

Over the past year, from Q3-2004 to Q3-2005, there has been a general across-the-board increase, the index said adding that first class airfares increased by 2.1 per cent and business class increased by 3.1 per cent, while full economy fares were up by 2.2 per cent and discount economy fares increased by 2.3 per cent.

Peak season excursion airfares were relatively stable increasing by just 0.1 per cent year-on-year while off-season. Excursion airfares increased by 1.2 per cent, it added. The overall index for the region has increased steadily over the past three years in first and business class, up by 8.3 per cent and 9.7 per cent respectively over the three years ending Q3-2005.

The full economy and discount economy airfares indices indicated increased airfare by 5.8 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively over the same period. Increases in the leisure travel economy categories were at a considerably slower rate, with a 2.3 per cent increase in the lowest peak season excursion and 2.9 per cent for lowest off-season excursion across the three-year period.

IA on forefront to carry relief to Srinagar

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 30: Be it the Gulf War, quakes in Bhuj (Gujarat), Latur (Maharashtra) and Assam, cyclone in Orissa or the Kargil war, national flag carrier, Indian Airlines, has always stayed in front to aid the nation. Therefore, when the killer earthquake struck Kashmir on October 8, Indian Airlines was on the forefront to carry relief material free of cost to Srinagar.

Since October 12, Indian Airlines has carried over 105 tonnes of relief material from different stations in the country to Srinagar free of cost for the earthquake affected people of Jammu & Kashmir, according to Mr Deepak Brara, IA's Director, Public Relations.

Living up to its role as lifeline of the nation, Indian Airlines carried relief material comprising tents, blankets, and medicines, packed food, milk powder and plastic mats, among other things. Indian Airlines would be carrying additional quantity of relief material free of cost to Srinagar in the next few days, said the spokesman.

Earlier, in February-March this year, following the unusual snowfall in J&K, Indian Airlines had operated 28 special flights to Srinagar transporting 2,321 passengers, and before that had, in the wake of Tsunami disaster, positioned its entire Boeing 737 fleet for carrying relief material to Port Blair from Kolkata and Chennai, he said.

Within hours of the Tsunami disaster on December 26 last year and with the airfield at Port Blair being unserviceable for A320 operations, Indian Airlines had positioned its entire Boeing 737 fleet for carrying relief material to Port Blair from Kolkata and Chennai. The airline ferried 3,250 paramilitary and other personnel to Port Blair and evacuated 5,568 passengers from there by operating 88 flights including 15 cargo flights carrying about 362 tonnes of relief material.

Coming to the aid of the flood-hit populace of Assam and Bihar earlier in 2004, Indian Airlines transported nearly 16 tonnes of relief material free of cost to Guwahati and to Patna.

During the Gujarat earthquake devastating Bhuj and several other cities in 2001, Indian Airlines had responded to the nation's call and operated 184 special relief flights transporting over 700 tonnes of relief supplies free of cost.

Indian Airlines had launched the biggest evacuation operation in 1990 during the Gulf war to bring back stranded Indians in Kuwait and other parts of the Gulf. During the Bhuj earthquake, it had operated 185 flights. During the Kargil war, the public-sector carrier had helped in mobilization of troops.

IA introduces non-stop Delhi-Singapore flight

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 30: A non-stop daily flight on the Delhi-Singapore sector and a connection from Jaipur to Kuala Lumpur, form the highlights of the Indian Airlines Winter Schedule that came into effect from Sunday.

The flight IC 859 will depart Delhi at 0005 hrs and reach Singapore non-stop at 0755 hrs (local time). The return flight IC 860 will leave Singapore at 0915 hrs, arriving in Delhi at 1240 hrs. With the operation of this flight, a total capacity of 2030 seats per week will be available on this sector, according to a spokesman of the airline.

For the first time, Jaipur will be linked to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, through the extension of the existing flight from Delhi. The twice a week flight IC 847 will operate on Wednesday and Sunday, on the Jaipur-Delhi-Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur, leaving Jaipur at 2225 hrs. and reaching Bangkok at 0610 hrs. and later Kuala Lumpur at 1015 hrs.(local time). The return flight IC 848 will leave Kuala Lumpur at 1210 hrs. and arrive in Jaipur at 1825 hrs. via Bangkok and Delhi.

The airline has also planned a twice a week connectivity between Pune and Singapore from 13th Dec., 2005. The A320 flight IC 561/562 will operate via Hyderabad.

On its domestic network, Indian Airlines has introduced Bangalore-Goa-Bangalore flight IC 919/918 and a Bangalore-Pune-Bangalore flight IC 917/918, thus offering non-stop connection on both sectors.

IA's triple festival bonanza

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 28: The national carrier, Indian Airlines, has been leader in introducing schemes to make travel easily accessible and affordable and provide value additions to its products. Keeping this in mind, Indian Airlines has introduced triple treat for domestic travellers this festival season.

Indian Airlines Director, Public Relations, Mr Deepak Brara, said Indian Airlines has relaunched the Super Saver scheme and also introduced two innovative facilities for booking - Dial-a-Ticket and IA-IDBI ATM ticketing.

The immensely popular Super Saver scheme has been relaunched as the Super Saver Utsav scheme with more attractive options. Under the Super Saver Utsav scheme for the individual passenger, eight-coupon executive class tickets would cost Rs 60,000 whereas the economy class package would cost Rs 42,000.

The Super Saver Utsav corporate scheme for corporate houses has two offers. First, an eight-coupon executive class tickets costing Rs 72,000 and the economy class ticket costing Rs 50,000 and second, 16-coupons executive class ticket priced at Rs 130,000 and economy class one priced Rs 90,000. The prices are all inclusive. Sale of tickets under this scheme will be on till March 31, 2006. The validity of the 8-coupon ticket would be four months while that of the 16-coupon one would be nine months from the date of purchase.

A big advantage to travellers is that one coupon only will be uplifted for any city pair on flights with the same flight number and no change of aircraft, unlike earlier. Now only one coupon will be uplifted between Delhi-Trivandrum or even Delhi-Kozhikode or Delhi-Cochin. Also, under the Super Saver Utsav Corporate scheme the coupons can be utilised by multiple users of the same corporate, thus fulfilling a long-standing need of corporate houses.

Through the Dial-a-Ticket facility, passengers can book a seat by just calling up the 24 x 7 Indian Airlines toll free number 1600 180 1407 from anywhere in the country, listing their itinerary and making payment by giving their credit card details.

They have the option of receiving the "Itinerary Receipt" through courier, e-mail, fax or even collecting it at metro airports, which can then be used as a ticket for check-in. Passengers are required to carry with them photo identification.

Another convenience offered to passengers is ticketing through ATMs. Following a tie-up with IDBI, for the first time in the world, Indian Airlines tickets can be booked through ATMs of IDBI. To begin with, this facility will be available in Mumbai. Passengers can make bookings for domestic travel through any IDBI ATM and use the ATM generated transaction slip as an Indian Airlines ticket for check-in.

IATA rings alarm bell on airport infrastructure

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 26: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that India's aviation infrastructure was out of date and required critical changes. "The Indian air transport sector is among the most vibrant and fastest growing in the world, but it could be a much greater catalyst for economic growth if critical bottlenecks in the system are removed," said Mr Giovanni Bisignani, IATA Director General and CEO.

Mr Bisignani said the most urgent was infrastructure, particularly Mumbai and Delhi airport. "Government policy is moving in the right direction. Now we need to see some results urgently to keep pace with rapid growth. We need results fast, or a great start could turn into a disaster," he said at an interactive session on "Aviation in India: Great Opportunities and Great Challenges", organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

He said though the airport infrastructure in the four metro airports and Banglaore was inadequate, it was the worst in Mumbai with poor service levels and insufficient capacity. "Delays due to bottlenecks in air traffic control systems are common and these are costing airlines and creating uncalled for inconveniences to passengers."

Raising an alarm bell, the IATA chief said "when all the orders for 190 aircraft worth 12 billion dollars made during the recent Paris air show are delivered, we risk chaos if we do not move quickly now."

IATA growth forecasts for India indicate average annual growth of 8.4 per cent in international traffic between 2004 and 2009. Combining domestic growth increases this to an average annual growth rate of 12 per cent to 2009 against GDP growth of 7.2 per cent. "Normally we would expect air transport to grow at twice the rate of GDP, so we should be expecting growth in the 15 per cent range," said Mr Bisignani.

Mr Bisignani immediately called for investments in Delhi and Mumbai airports to meet the challenges of the next six to 18 months. To a question on the Government's move to privatize Delhi and Mumbai airports, he admitted that this process could delay the much needed urgent fillip to the airports as privatization, from the Indian experience, was a long drawn process.

He said the Indian Government could think of Greenfield airports in these two mega cities as recommended by the Standing Committee of Parliament. He said that IATA's concern was that the airports must be safe, cost-efficient and provide adequate capacity for further growth.

Mr Bisignani said the Indian aviation industry and its growth would be an integral driver of future global aviation outlook. He said that India had come up quite well in the field of civil aviation, making the expansion of air transport in the country amongst the fastest in the world. However, he said, if India has to compete with the challenge posed by China, it must improve its infrastructure at the airports.

Globally, airlines are a US$400bn industry, which generates US$1.3 trillion in economic output. Stating that the potential of air transport was too great to be taken lightly, the Director General of IATA asserted that India must undertake five immediate tasks to take full advantage of this potential.

Listing the priorities, he said that the focus should be on enhanced safety, cost-effective improvement of infrastructure, reasonable taxation, allowing the airline operators to function as real business and effective use of technology to simplify the procedures.

"Safety is the number one priority for aviation. India's record on safety is good, but constant attention and efforts are needed, especially at a time of rapid expansion," said Mr Bisignani. IATA's Operational Safety Audit program is the first international standard benchmark for airline safety management. Air India is among the 67 carriers currently on the publicly available IOSA registry and Jet Airways will undertake an audit this month. By the end of 2005, 140 carriers are expected to be in the audit process. As India's air transport sector grows, safety must be the number one priority.

"I hope to see all of India's carriers committed to IOSA by our Annual General Meeting in June 2006. And I encourage the Government of India to make IOSA a part of its safety oversight program," he said.

Another urgent concern of the IATA was the increasing taxation on aviation, not only in India but also all over the globe. He said that he was happy that the Indian Government had abolished the fuel uplift levy in 2002, but at the same time disappointed that the US $ 36 million collected by the levy had not been returned to the airlines.

Mr Bisignani stated that the IATA was not setting targets only for governments but it was setting deadlines for itself too. "We are committed to switch over completely to e-ticketing by December 2007 because we need the US$3bn that will be saved, once e-ticketing is introduced. On this target date for e-ticketing, India is way behind at 5 per cent, as against a 40 per cent average globally. Similarly e-freight too is a key initiative being pursued by IATA, with as many as 38 documents being required currently for shipments by air", he added.

The Montreal-based IATA has a membership of 265 airlines in 136 countries and represents 94 per cent of world's scheduled traffic, said Mr Robey Lal, IATA's country manager in India.

In his welcome address, Mr V Thulasidas, Chairman of the CII National Committee on Civil Aviation and Chairman and Managing Director, Air India, stated that the airline industry had seen a strong growth momentum in the last couple of years in India.

"New airlines, acquisition of new aircraft fleet by existing players, private airlines joining India's national carriers on international routes, launch of low cost variants in the Indian skies and strong global interest in the Indian aviation sector, be it airlines or airport management had instilled this sense of confidence over the Indian skies" he stated.

Mr Thulasidas said that CII believed that the momentum that the aviation industry was witnessing in India would also reflect in business tourism and overall economic growth in the country. At the same time he also pointed out the challenges that India faced, particularly the infrastructure challenge. Airline-industry maturity and airport infrastructure had failed to keep pace with each other in India, he said.

There are also challenges on account of Air Traffic inefficiencies, with enormous wastage of fuel taking place at India's airports on account of these inefficiencies. An enormous wastage of fuel at India's airports and in the skies currently, comes at a time when airlines are already bearing the brunt of historical highs in fuel costs globally.

Stating that the Indian aviation industry was not functioning in isolation he pointed that the challenges before the Indian aviation industry was a reflection of the challenges that aviation faced globally.

Giving his concluding remarks, Dr Vijay Mallaya, Member of the CII National Committee on Civil Aviation and Chairman and Managing Director of the Kingfisher Airlines, thanked Mr Bisignani for the strong agenda that IATA had taken up, on behalf of the Aviation Industry, globally.

Air India goes eco-friendly

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 4: From time immemorial we in India have known that happiness and health is best achieved by flowing with nature's tide. All our cultures, our arts and our philosophies have been inspired by nature and we owe her a debt of gratitude. On its part, the national carrier, Air India, has been making efforts in its own way to ensure ecological stability and environmental well being of the country, and the world as a whole, which is vital to our development and progress.

As a responsible global citizens, the national carrier has teamed up with UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) as a part of its OzonAction programme to create international awareness about effects of ozone depletion, said Mr V Thulasidas, Chairman and Managing Director of the airline.

In an exclusive interview with this correspondent, Mr Thulasidas said Air India has been showing its passengers Ozzy Ozone, a colourful cartoon character who is helping UNEP's OzoneAction programme to explain ozone depletion and the simple steps that we can all take to protect ourselves from its effects and contribute to sustainable development. "Protecting our planet is the finest way we can collectively show our love for our children and their children," he said.

The CMD said the invention of airplane is one of humanity's most outstanding accomplishments as it not only shortened distances but also made travel possible in gravity free environment. However, aircraft do some damage to the environment as it burns hydrocarbons and fuel. "As a socially concerned organization we decided to contribute for the cause in our own little way and create awareness among the people about environment. This is how we tied up with UNEP and TERI. We also plan to buy more fuel-efficient aircraft Boeing B787 which would join our fleet in 2008," said the CMD.

Mr Thulasidas said other eco-friendly steps include introducing organic food on our flights and launch of environment friendly tourism packages in cooperation with hotels and tour operators. We have also formed an Environment Group in Air India, which would constantly monitor these activities. "We want to be known as environmentally concerned airline," he added.

About 40 km above the earth is the stratospheric ozone layer. An invisible but vital sheet of molecules, each made up of three oxygen atoms that protect all life on earth from ultraviolet radiation from the sum. Without the ozone layer, we would not exist. It is our protective shield, says Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, UNEP.

The ozone layer represents the power of nature to protect. It also symbolizes how natural resources can be damaged by human activity. The ozone layer is in danger because of the emission of certain human -made chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (also known as CFCs), which are used in refrigerators and air-conditioning units; halons used in fire extinguishers; carbon tetrachloride, a solvent; and methyl bromide, a pesticide used in agriculture.

Scientists' understanding of how these chemicals cause ozone depletion led UNEP to catalyse global action to protect the ozone layer. As many as 189 countries have now ratified the Montreal Protocol, signed in Montreal in 1987. It has specific time-bound targets for developed and developing countries to phase out the production and consumption of ozone-destroying chemicals.

So far, these international efforts to save the ozone layer have been highly successful. Most CFCs and halons have been phased out in the developed countries, and developing countries are following closely. The Indian Government, for example, has a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate these substances and replace them with alternatives. It is helping industry to adopt environmentally friendly technologies and cooperating with its neighbours to combat illegal trade in these chemicals.

Without the Montreal Protocol, the world would have seem 1.5 million more cases of melanoma skin cancer, 19.1 million more cases of non-melanoma cancer and 130 million incidents of cataract. Nevertheless, despite these successes, the ozone layer remains fragile and under threat. "UNEP has commended Air India for taking a proactive role in railing awareness of environmental sustainability," said Mr Toepfer.

Sustainable development implies meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It means that all aspects of our developmental efforts - economic, environmental and social - must be balanced to secure long-term growth and stability.

Mr Thulasidas said Air India has also tied up with the Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) to produce as many as 10 short films concerning environmental issues, which will be shown on board the flights and made available to organizations working to help attain the larger objective of winning public opinion for nature conservation.

Helping to protect the ozone layer is a vital step in that direction. Remember, when it comes to protecting the environment - including the ozone layer - every action counts.

Indus Airways -- the origin of India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: The Indian economy is growing at a galloping pace. It grew a robust 8.1 percent in the April-June 2005 quarter from a year ago, lifted by strong manufacturing as well as services such as banking and tourism. India has become the second most favoured destination for investments. With the opening up of the aviation sector for the private sector, more and more airlines are planning to commence flights. New airlines that are planning to take to wings are Jeh Wadia's GoAir and Coimbatore-headquartered Paramount Airways.

Another airline that is planning to commence operations by October-end is Indus Airways -- the origin of India. Indus is obtaining two 50-seater CRJ-200 from Lufthansa in the next couple of weeks with the buyback lease of five years. Three more CRJ-200s would join the fleet by the year-end, according to Brig Kapil Mohan, Chairman of Mohan Meakins.

To expand its connectivity, the Chairman said the airline would purchase two 75-seater CRJ-700s and three Boeing 737-800 aircraft in 2006 taking its strength to ten. Brig Kapil Mohan, who is also Chairman of Indus Airways and is the main promoter of the airline, said the actual date of the launch in October was being worked out with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and would be announced soon.

Besides Brig Kapil Mohan, Indus Airways has three Directors on the Board including Mr Krishan Gopal Beri, who is Managing Director of M/s Beri and Beri Cold Storage and General Mills (P) Ltd; Mr Parminder Lakhanpal, a London-based NRI; and Mr Baldev Seth, a garment exporter. Mr Amarjit Sangha, a Toronto-based NRI, is one of the investors in the airline that has a starting equity base of Rs 10 crore.

The airline plans to launch operations on two sectors. First being Delhi-Chandigarh-Mumbai-Jammu and return and the second sector being Delhi-Amritsar-Mumbai-Goa and return. "These are hitherto unconnected sectors and have a huge potential," he said. The CRJs would operate in a single class configuration and would be fitted with executive class seats. While foreign pilots would operate the aircraft, Indus Airways has sent several Indian pilots to Montreal for being trained on the CRJs.

He said the airline would provide "very reasonable fares with best of frills." On the long-haul flights, he said the airline would provide good quality food for which we have hired some specialists. He said "it will be service with a smile." Brig Kapil Mohan, who is known is known as a doer, said "the airline has hired professionals to take the airline to new heights in the Indian aviation."

He said the airline has hired two best aviators for its operations in Northern and Central and Southern India. Capt A P C Kapoor, ex-Director (operations) Air India and a senior Commander and instructor of Boeing 747-400, would be based in Mumbai and head the operations of Central and Southern India.

Similarly, Capt M S Sandhu, ex-General Manager, Air India and Boeing 747 instructor, would be based in Chandigarh and head the operations of Northern India. Mr G S Bankoti, also ex-Air India, would look after Administration and Safety. The airline has also hired 10 foreign pilots and 10 Indian co-pilots, 20-cabin crew and 20 ground staff, and six engineers. Airline's full-fledged reservation system would be in place shortly, said Mr Krishan Gopal Beri and added that both the aircraft would be based in Delhi.

Mr Beri said the emphasis would be on quality - be it food, service or in-flight comforts. He said there would also be emphasis on on-time performance and intelligent schedules. "In other words, a passenger could catch a flight early morning and return home by night after completing his task. That will also save him on his hotel bills." He said the company would offer honest and straightforward flat fares.

Designed to provide superior efficiencies to small operators and major airlines alike, Mr Baldev Seth said the Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft has firmly established itself as the world's quietest and most environmentally friendly commercial jet aircraft. He said the aircraft's 50-seat capacity and low trip cost -- fuel burn is 10 per cent less than its nearest competitor -- allow airlines to provide jet services on routes where low load factors make larger jet aircraft unprofitable.

Mr Seth said the Bombardier CRJ200 can extend the range from hub airports or bypass congested hubs for more non-stop services between cities in smaller markets. The aircraft complements some bigger jets by flying their routes at off-peak times of day, allowing airlines to maintain the all-important flight frequency.

Mr Amarjeet Sangha said the 64- to 70- passenger Bombardier CRJ700 Series 701 and 75-seat Bombardier CRJ700 Series 705 are members of the highly successful Bombardier CRJ family of regional jets.

Ever since entering service over a decade ago, the Bombardier CRJ has changed the way people travel. Today, more than 1,200 Bombardier CRJ aircraft fly with operators large and small all over the world. The first Bombardier CRJ100 was delivered to Lufthansa in 1992, after the initial flight in November 1991. In 1996, the Bombardier CRJ200 was launched with higher performance engines. The Bombardier CRJ700 made its maiden flight in May 1999 and was delivered to inaugural customer Brit Air/Air France in January 2001.

Air Sahara gains supremacy in Colombo

By Deepak Arora

COLOMBO: Private carrier Air Sahara has the highest percentage of load factor as compared to other carriers flying out of Colombo to India, according to Mr Alok Sharma, Executive Vice President of the airline.

India's second largest private, Air Sahara, showed that it was the strongest Indian carrier out of Colombo. It has raced ahead of Jet Airways and Indian Airlines. "In August, load seat factor of Air Sahara was 23.7 per cent as compared to 23.3 per cent of Jet and 22.7 per cent of Indian Airlines. Similary in June, it was 24.8 per cent of Sahara, 22.8 per of Jet and 23.3 per cent of Indian Airlines," Mr Sharma told this correspondent in an exclusive interview.

Though the load factor, SriLankan Airlines, was 29.2 per cent and 30.4 per cent for June and August this year, the Sri Lankan national carrier has three flights out of Colombo to India as compared to one each by Jet, Sahara and Indian Airlines.

It may be mentioned that Indian Airlines had the highest load factor of 26.8 per cent in May among all the four carriers. In July, Jet Airways was ahead of other Indian carriers with load factor of 25.6 per cent as compared to 24.2 per cent of Sahara and 19.8 per cent of Indian Airlines. Besides Colombo, Air Sahara also flies to other international destinations like Kathmandu and Singapore.

Mr Sharma, who in Colombo to attend the annual convention of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), said that the airline was planning to start its long haul flights to the UK and the US shortly. The airline is a part of the multi-crore Sahara India Parivar. "We have signed a marketing agreement for code share with the world's largest airline, American Airlines. As part of the agreement, American Airlines will launch non-stop daily flights between Delhi and Chicago from November 15," he said.

Mr Sharma said Air Sahara has also acquired seven landing slots per week at London Heathrow and has a marketing agreement with British Airways to launch joint fare products, synergize ground services and frequent flyers programmes and explore the potential for code sharing agreements in the future. He said the airline has formed strategic alliances with foreign airlines. "It will be a leap and not a walk for us with our partners," he added.

Currently the airline operates with a fleet of 26 leased aircraft to 25 destinations and offers 123 flights daily to metro and non-metro destinations across the country.

Mr Sharma said Air Sahara is currently in an expansion mode and by November the airline will operate 140 flights per day as compared to 123 flights per day presently. "Our capacity would go up by 85 per cent, including 45 per cent in the domestic sector, in the next four to five months," he said. Currently, the airline operates with a fleet of 26 leased aircraft to 25 destinations.

Mr Sharma said "we are launching a new Delhi-Kolkata flight from October 1. Similarly from October 20, more flights would be launched to Chennai and Bangalore. Beginning November 1, a flight is being launched on Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar sector."

Air Sahara was also exploring opportunities for privately placing a small percentage of its equity with private investors, including domestic airlines. However, its President Rono J Dutta, said that there are no plans to sell off 76 per cent stake in the airline as reported by some newspapers.

While categorically refuting media reports, about Air Sahara's deal with Spice Jet, Mr. Dutta says "we confirm our willingness to look at alliances and partnerships that could contribute to our own expansion and growth plans, but nothing has been finalized as yet. Initial estimates by Ernst & Young have put our enterprise value between US $ 750 million to US $ 1 billion and not the meager US $ 300 million as reported by the press."

He confirmed the appointment of Ernst & Young as advisor for business plan validation, valuation and fund mobilization through strategic partners for private equity placement. "We have received calls from a lot of investors and domestic airlines, but we have not struck any deal yet. The funds to raised through the private placement will be used to fund our massive expansion plans under which we plan to place orders for both narrow-body and wide-bodied planes," he said.

Air India declares dividend after 10 years

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 4: Despite steep rise in fuel costs and enhanced aircraft lease charges, Air India has shown profit of Rs 96.36 crore for 2004-05, resulting in an improvement in net worth and debt equity ratio. This is the fourth consecutive year that Air India has shown profits. The national carrier has also declared a dividend of 10 per cent to the Government. This is the first dividend declared by Air India after a gap of 10 years, according to Mr V Thulasidas, Chairman and Managing Director of the airline.

Total revenue showed an increase of 22.2 per cent from Rs 6246 crore to Rs 7,630 crore and total expenses by 21.3 per cent i.e. from Rs 6,238 crore to Rs 7,565 crore. The profits, increased from Rs.92.33 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 96.36 crore in 2004-05. Fuel, which constituted a bulk of its total costs, increased from Rs 1,334 crore (21.5 per cent) in 2003-04 to Rs 2,182 crore (28.8 per cent) in 2004-05.

Mr Thulasidas said increase in fuel prices adversely affected the profitability of the airline to the extent of Rs 643 crore. Average fuel costs shot up from US Cents 114 per US Gallon in 2003-04 to US Cents 159 per US Gallon in 2004-05. Today's prices are around 220 US Cents per US Gallon.

But for this increase, the net profit for 2004-05 would have been in the region of Rs 450 crore after adjusting for fuel surcharge. The airline, in an effort to minimize the impact of rising fuel prices, is planning to hedge some of its international fuel uplifts shortly, he said.

Aircraft lease charges also went up from Rs 270 crore to Rs 393 crore due to increased leasing operations. The number of aircraft presently on lease is 24 in a fleet size of 42 including Air India Express. During the financial year, Mr Thulasidas said airline has shown a growth of 25 per cent. He said airline's seat capacity has matched the fleet growth. This shows that as and when the airline gets green signal from the Government to purchase new aircraft, it can match it with the increase in its traffic growth.

With the introduction of new routes and launch of additional frequencies to existing destinations, the number of passengers carried increased by 16.7 per cent ie 4.4 million in 2004-05 as against 3.7 million last year. What is commendable is that Air India has done well despite its fleet age averaging 15 years. "With the new aircraft joining Air India fleet from next year, the national carrier can do much better."

With a planned growth of nearly 20 per cent for 2005-06, Air India plans to lease more aircraft and is hoping to have a fleet of 50 by the winter of 2006-07. Meanwhile, the acquisition plans for 68 new generation aircraft at a cost of USD 8.2 billion is progressing fast and is awaiting PIB approval, said Mr Thulasidas.

During the year there was a remarkable growth in ASKMs by 25.5 per cent and ATKMs by 24.3 per cent. Flying hours increased by 20.7 per cent. New flights were introduced during the year 2004-05 to Los Angeles via Frankfurt - three frequencies a week from June 10, 2004 to five by December 2004. Six terminators to London were introduced effective November 29, 2004.

In 2005-06, the Los Angeles flights have increased from five to seven from April 2005, and Shanghai via Delhi from two to four in May 2005. New routes were added by introducing thrice weekly Kolkata-Dhaka-London terminators and Toronto terminators via Birmingham and four flights a week to Seoul. In addition, Air India doubled its services to Hong Kong. The number of flights have been increased from five to 12 out of which five services are via Bangkok.

AI, Tourism Malaysia launch joint initiatives for the Indian market

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 15: Air India, India's national carrier, and Tourism Malaysia, the nodal agency to promote Malaysia as a preferred tourist destination among Indians, have announced a series of joint initiatives planned for the Indian market in promoting Malaysia- Truly Asia.

As part of the first step to a series of future joint programmes, Tourism Malaysia and Air India announced the launch of a special "Truly Festive-Truly Asia" package for Rs 14,999 per person. This special package valid ex-Delhi and Mumbai has been launched in association with leading travel agents of the respective cities.

The three nights package valid till 30th November, 2005 will include return economy airfare, accommodation in star category hotel with breakfast on twin sharing basis, airport transfers and half day sight seeing in Kuala Lumpur on Seat in Coach (SIC) basis.

On the anvil is joint marketing promotion to lure the Indian corporates for organizing their meetings and incentives in Malaysia; a special road show targeted towards the feeder markets; a series of tactical campaigns to popularize the new niche segments of "Wellness and Spa"; "Fly & Drive" and "Student traffic".

Promotional packages based on the Malaysian 'celebration and festivities' would also be unveiled for the Indian diaspora. The two organizations are also in the process of identifying a mega Indian event to be held in Malaysia involving corporates and Bollywood celebrities.

Air India, which commenced its operation to Kuala Lumpur from July, 2005, presently flies directly from Delhi and Mumbai. The thrice-weekly Airbus 310 flight has a capacity of 201 seats per flight with a configuration of 20 business class seats and 181 economy class. Additionally, on the Mumbai-Kula Lumpur-Mumbai sector, Air India has a four weekly flight on B-772 with a seat capacity 272 per flight in the configuration of 12 first class, 49 executive class and 211 economic class.

Speaking on the occasion Mr Roslan Abdullah, Director, Tourism Malaysia, said "We welcome Air India's move to launch their direct flight to Malaysia as this has created a healthy addition to the seat capacity between the two countries. This joint marketing promotion is a commitment from the tourism board to offer quality and variety at a value for money for the travelers. The Indian outbound market is expected to reach six million by the end of this year and Malaysia wants to be a dominant player in the market."

Mr Abdullah said "This year Indian summer season has already seen a growth of over 46 per cent in the number of arrivals from India to Malaysia. We expect this joint exercise would further help in augmenting our Indian arrivals, from the forecasted 200,000 this year."

Speaking on the occasion Ms Rohita Jaidka, Commercial Manager, Northern India, Air India said " Air India has, in tune with the times, emerged as a progressive, forward looking airline eager to satiate the growing needs and expectations of the discerning jet age traveler of today and has positioned itself as an airline of preference. Through this marketing promotion, the national carrier reiterates its commitment to offer quality and value for money for the Indian traveler."

Mr Bhupesh Kumar, Marketing Manager, Tourism Malaysia, said last year the total tourism receipts from India stood at US $ 85 million which is a surge of 13.6 per cent over the previous year, with total Indian arrivals closing at 172,966. The year 2005 began with a healthy note, as the figures for the Indian arrivals in the month of January stood at 15,117; in February at 14,548, in March 18,828, in April 15,464, in May 27,701 and in June, 24,424. The time period in consideration (January-June) has shown a surge of 26 per cent over the previous year for the same period in the arrivals from India.

Air India on expansion drive

By Deepak Arora

KOCHI: The public-sector Air India is steadily inching towards its goal of being a world-class airline. The airline hopes to get Government clearance for purchase of 68 brand new aircraft in two months. It also plans to lease few more aircraft to expand its global network, according to Mr V Thulasidas, Chairman and Managing Director of Air India.

During its short existence of three and half months, Air India Express, subsidiary of Air India, has achieved load factor of 99 per cent from India to the Gulf. The load factor was around 89 per cent from the Gulf to Kerala. At present, the budget airline has three aircraft for its operations from Kerala to the Gulf. "We plan to lease four more aircraft early next year to expand our network and stabilize the new airline's operations," said Mr Thulasidas.

The CMD, who was in Kochi to attend a conference of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), told this correspondent in an exclusive interview, that Air India Express plans to buy 18 new Boeing aircraft to make this airline as a favoured carrier of the Gulf. "We expect a clearance from the Government on this and Air India proposal to purchase 50 aircraft in two months time," he said.

Air India Board has already sent a proposal to the Government to purchase eight Boeing 777-200LR Medium Capacity Ultra Long Range aircraft in three-class configuration; 15 Boeing 777-300ER Medium Capacity Long Range-350 seater, in three-class configuration, and 27 Boeing 787 Medium Capacity Long Range-250 seater, in two class configuration, at a total cost estimated to be about Rs.30,000 crores, prior to negotiations with the manufacturers of air frame and engines.

Air India Express flies from three stations in Kerala (Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram) to five destinations in the Gulf - Dubai, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Salalah and Alain.

Air India had a strong presence this year at the IATO convention. Besides the CMD, the national carrier was represented by its Commercial Director, Mr V K Verma, and the Commercial Manager (Tourism), Ms Chitra Sarkar. The presence of high profile delegation displayed the seriousness of the national carrier in its contribution to inbound tourism into the country.

Mr Verma said Air India's operations on the new routes - Seoul, Shanghai, Bangkok and Hong Kong - have been very successful. These were planned with outbound tourism in mind and have come in at a very opportune time. Tourism is the backbone of these routes.

The CMD admitted that the leasing market has firmed up and it was difficult to get aircraft at the right price. It is for this reason; Air India has delayed relaunch of its flights to Mauritius. The airline is studying a proposal to lease a few Boeing 777s. As soon as it gets lease of these aircraft it would launch operations to Mauritius and some other destinations.

Air India had in the past few months launched flights to Seoul, Toronoto, Birmingham and Dhaka and connected Kolkatta to Dhaka and London. It also launched direct flights to Hong Kong, Singapore, Kaula Lumpur and Bangkok.

The CMD stated that despite the sudden resignation of dozen odd pilots, the airline had maintained its schedules from Kerala. He stated that the airline was working on a strategy to meet the shortage of pilots.

Mr Thulasidas said a new project called Air India Holidays would be launched in November this year. It is being launched in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry where the Ministry would promote certain flights of Air India and the national carrier would promote Incredible India as a preferred tourist destination.

Air India Holidays would be a joint venture between Air India and Ministry of Tourism and would a public-private sector initiative. Under this scheme, Air India would sell packages from major tour operators to promote India as a destination.

Mr Thulasidas said Air India planned to set up engineering bases in Kerala and New Delhi. In Kerala, it would set up at a cost of Rs 50 crore and it could be at Kochi or Thiruvananthapuram. Air India now has an engineering base only in Mumbai.

The CMD said that Air India would be offering special discounted fares for senior citizens and students going to the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. He said senior citizens travelling from India to USA, Canada, London, Birmingham, Paris and Frankfurt can now avail of special discounted fares for outbound travel period from September 16 to March 31, 2006. However, on these concessional fares travel is not permitted ex India during January and into India during December and July. Passengers aged 60 years and above will be eligible for these fares.

On student fares, he said passengers holding student visa can avail of special discounted fares for travel ex-India to the USA, Canada, the UK and Europe for travel up to March 31. Students can also avail of excess baggage on Air India operated services ie 20 kg to London, 10 kg to Paris/Frankfurt/Birmingham and one additional piece to New York, Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto.

Lowest fare challenge

NEW DELHI, Sept 15: In a first of its kind in the Indian aviation history, Air Deccan, India's first low cost carrier, has challenged the other airlines to prove that they are the lowest in the market. The airline is offering free tickets to passengers who buy other airlines' tickets at lower fares than theirs. Air Deccan has thrown this challenge as airlines across board these days are arbitrarily charging lesser fares.

Air Deccan has said if a passenger finds another airline cheaper than Air Deccan for purchase of tickets at the airport counter, and then he should buy the ticket and approach the Air Deccan airport counter. The ticket has to be purchased till September 30 for travel during the same period. He should contact the Air Deccan airport counter with the original cheaper other airline ticket, its photocopy and the date of booking. The passenger will be eligible for a free Air Deccan ticket if the other airline ticket is at a lower fare.

The passenger has to buy an Air Deccan ticket for the same sector at the present lower fare, and in addition he will get a free return ticket (valid for travel before October 30 this year) on the same sector absolutely free. This challenge is open only for direct flights on Air Deccan Airbus sectors (All Airbus sectors are long-haul sectors), according to Ms Vijaya Menon, Head - Corporate Communications, Air Deccan.

India clears purchase of 43 Airbus planes

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: India has cleared the purchase of 43 aircraft from European consortium Airbus at a cost of $2.2 billion in what Indian leaders described as a "well-negotiated" deal.

Addressing a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the occasion of the India-EU summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said "I am happy to announce that our government has cleared the purchase of 43 aircraft from Airbus." Blair, the current president of EU, said the purchase was a very welcome sign.

Indian Airlines will formally ink the deal with Airbus, finalised after the European firm agreed to a discount of 3.4 per cent totaling to $ 73.4 million, within 15 days. The first of the new planes will arrive in August 2006, and thereafter a plane will be delivered each month.

An "empowered group of ministers" chaired by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram cleared the purchase of Airbus A-320 planes by Indian Airlines after Manmohan Singh's nod. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said Airbus had given a discount to the tune of 3.4 per cent over the original negotiated price that works out to be $ 73.4 million.

"At the end of the day the Indian Airlines acquisition has been a very well-negotiated transaction and we have been able to secure a very good deal," said Patel. Airbus has also thrown in an "ultra modern" training centre for pilots and spare parts warehouses in the deal.

Patel said the price was competitive, contained an integrity clause and a most favoured clause. Airbus will also facilitate the setting up of a $100 million repair and overhaul unit in India, he said. Prolonged negotiations running through two successive Indian governments had stalled Indian Airlines' plan to replace its ageing fleet. The airline last purchased a plane a decade ago.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which took power last year, put on hold the purchase as it continued to check details of the big sale and negotiate with Airbus.

Matters were given a push forward when the cabinet panel on economic affairs decided to set up an empowered committee August 25 to negotiate with Airbus following a plea from some MPs that the manufacturer had offered lower prices for a similar deal to Southeast Asian airline Air Asia.

Most of the new aircraft will replace Indian Airlines planes that have long outlived their optimum performance. The planes to be replaced include 11 Boeing 737s, 15 Airbus A-320s and three Airbus A-300s

Airbus said the deal would boost the fast-growing aviation market in India that has seen several private carriers start operations in the past year. Analysts have predicted that passenger traffic will grow 20 percent a year until 2010. Indian Airlines will receive a mix of short-haul and medium-haul Airbus A319, A320 and A321s.



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