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Indian flexes muscles to take leadership slot

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 5: The public-sector carrier, Indian (Airlines), has begun flexing its muscles to prove that it still is a market leader of one of the fastest growing industry in the country.

To give competitors run for their money and also to maintain its market and revenue share, Indian has announced attractive Spot Fares with discounts up to 70 per cent on select routes to the passengers till September 30. The airline did this after increasing the number of seats allocated to the Uncheck Fares, the lowest fares available in the industry.

The flag carrier geared into the fast mode after country's first low-cost airline, Air Deccan, claimed recently of achieving number two slot for the month of June in the crowded civil aviation sector. Air Deccan's claim raised several eyebrows in the industry and experts feel the story unfolds the other way.

Air Deccan last month claimed that its market share had jumped to 21.2 per cent for June as compared to 20.8 of Indian. On the other hand, Indian emphatically and unequivocally dismissed Air Deccan's claim and stated that it continues to be the second largest airline in the country with its share remaining static at 22 per cent.

Aviation experts feel that it is wrong to compare the number of passengers flown by full fare carrier, Indian, and the low-cost airline, Air Deccan. "Air Deccan flies more on short routes as compared to Indian and therefore, what matter's is the revenue per passengers per kilometer and not the number of passengers flown. There is not much earning on the short routes as compared to long flights," said an expert.

Similarly, Indian flies over 5,000 to 7,000 passengers every day on international sectors. These figures are not added to its domestic operations. Therefore, it was pointed out that Air Deccan's claim of higher market share remains only a claim.

Also, Indian, being the flag carrier, carries with it the social responsibility. "Its aircraft are normally pressed into service during calamities like floods, earthquakes and war. It recently took part in 'Operation Sakoon' along with Indian Navy and Air India to evacuate Indians stranded in the war zone of Lebanon. Obviously, Indian does this at the cost of its normal operations," it was pointed out.

Similarly, Indian and its sister concern, Alliance Air, have ageing fleet as the carriers were not allowed to purchase new aircraft for the past over 15 years. With a fleet of 72 aircraft (55 Indian and 14 Alliance Air), normally 20 per cent of aircraft could be grounded at a time for major maintenance or scheduled maintenance checks. This has some impact on seat capacity.

With the Government's recent nod to the public-sector airline to induct 43 new Airbus aircraft worth US $ 2 billion, it would start taking delivery of mint fresh aircraft from October this year.

Meanwhile, the airline's Director (Public Relations), Mr Deepak Brara, is upbeat on the Indian's market share. He said the airline was augmenting its passenger capacity and market share substantially by leasing three to four wide-body and four narrow-body aircraft. Similarly, from this month it would start getting aircraft which had gone for major maintenance. "Indian's immediate goal is to expand capacity in all existing routes rather than flying to new destinations," he said.

Giving reasons for upbeat mood on Indian's market share, Mr Brara said the domestic traffic is set to grow by 50 per cent. The reason for this, he said, is that the Indian aviation scene has been buoyant for the past few years with an average 25 per cent growth on domestic sectors and 15 to 20 per cent on international routes.

The just released official figures for the first quarter reveal that Indian continues to be Number Two. Indian's market share was 23.9 per cent as compared to 15.2 per cent of Air Deccan. Jet Airways share for the quarter was 34.9 per cent and Air Sahara's 9.7 per cent. Kingfisher, SpiceJet, Paramount and GoAir, which started their operations last year, registered market shares of 8.3, 6, 0.3 and 1.6 per cent respectively in the first quarter of this year.

While Indian carried 17.35 lakh passengers, Air Deccan's share was 11.02 lakh passengers. Jet Airways carried 25.28 lakh passengers, Air Sahara 7.06 lakh, Kingfisher Airlines 6.05 lakh and SpiceJet 4.34 lakh passengers. A total of 1,23,000 passengers travel daily by air on an average.

Whatever be the pie of each airline in the market, it's the passengers that continue to reap the benefits of low fares due to fierce competition among airlines despite hike in air turbine fuel (ATF) prices. The airlines have decided to hike the fuel surcharge (second consecutive revision in the last two months) on its domestic sectors by Rs 150 taking the total levy to Rs 650 per sector from August 8.

Indian's attractive Spot Fares giving 70 per cent discount are available as "X" Class fares or Unchecked Fares on select flights a few hours prior to the departure of the flight at six metro cities -- Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

Under its Spot Fares scheme, passengers travelling from Delhi to Mumbai will have to pay Rs. 3,205 against the normal fare of Rs. 10,240. Other routes will cost: Delhi-Bangalore Rs. 3,705 (against the full fare of Rs. 14,600), Delhi-Kolkata Rs. 3,105 (Rs. 11,590), Chennai-Hyderabad Rs. 2,205 (Rs. 6,745) and Ahmedabad-Mumbai Rs. 1,805 (Rs. 5,580). The fares include all taxes and fuel surcharge.

Air Deccan, in its excitement of claiming to achieve number two slot, announced release of 2 lakh tickets at low fares with tickets beginning at Rs 499 plus taxes valid for travel till August 31. But Air Deccan's Managing Director, Capt. G R Gopinath, is not giving up his dream of becoming the largest people carrier with the largest fleet offering the largest connectivity and the lowest fares in the country. He vows to continue the fight.

Swanky airport to welcome guests for C'wealth Games

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 24: A swanky underground metro station, brand new state-of-the-art Volvo buses, latest brands of cars as taxis, grand parking space for visitors and shops carrying world renowned brands at affordable prices. This unexpected and pleasant experience is on the way for the passengers at Delhi airport which has been taken over by the GMR infrastructure and its partners in May this year.

Besides this, the airport would have swanky and spacious terminals, state-of-the art baggage belts, smart and courteous staff, several counters for immigration checks to ensure quick clearances and lesser wait while landing and take offs.

"The idea behind all this is to give an international experience to the air passengers and visitors," said Mr G M Rao, Chairman of GMR Group, whose company has bagged the contract for modernising Delhi international airport and building a Greenfield airport in Hyderabad.

Mr Rao said the first phase of the Delhi airport modernisation will be completed by March 2010, well before the Commonwealth Games. "Most of the work would have been completed in 2009 for the mandatory inspection by the Commonwealth Games Committee," he promised.

The Chairman said the master plan for the airport has been submitted to the Government and construction would begin in December this year. He said that the project will cost about Rs 2,800 crore. The restructuring and modernisation of the airport would contribute to the economic growth and will impact on the aviation sector in general, he added.

Besides GMR, the consortium for the Delhi airport consists of Fraport AG, Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhard and the India Development Fund. The consortium has been granted the right to operate, manage and develop the airport for 30 years with an option to extend it for another 30 years. GMR Infrastructure Limited owns 50.10 per cent of Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for this venture.

The company has secured airport development orders in Delhi and Hyderabad. Besides these, it operates 440 megawatts of electricity generation capacity and is adding another 500 megawatts and also has several highway construction projects.

The Managing Director of IGI airport, Mr Srinivas Bommidala, said the third runway, which would be the longest and 550-seater Airbus A380 compatible, would be ready before May 2008. In the meanwhile, he said "we are constructing a new terminal building between the two present domestic terminals - 1A and 1B. Eventually, the three will be integrated to become Terminal One. The present capacity of two domestic terminals is around 10 million and with the completion of the new terminal it will go up to 14 million," he said.

Besides, Mr Bommidala said the present international terminal would be called Terminal Two and it could be given to the low-cost carriers. "For the Commonwealth Games we are constructing a third terminal, which will be ready by March 2010 and it will be four times larger than Terminals One and Two," he said. To understand the hugeness Terminal Three, it can be said it would be spread over 300,000 sq metres as compared to 75,000 sq ft of Terminals One and Two.

On completion of Phase-I, Mr Bommidala said the airport will cater to 30 million passengers as compared to current year passenger traffic of 16.2 million. The airport's capacity would be increased to 55 to 60 million in 15 years, he added.

He said the current revenue from the Delhi airport was $ 8.8 per passenger as compared to international average of $ 23.4 and Frankfort airport earns $48.6. The earning at the Cochin airport was to the tune of $ 11.4 per passenger.

Mr Bommidala said the airport would be world class and it will have hotel for transit passengers and recreational facilities around the airport in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. "Our role model is Incheon airport in Seoul which has achieved 4.7 standards on the scale of five. Delhi airport right now has achieved 2.7 standards and we have targeted 3.5 for ourselves."

He said "we have requested the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) to plan two Metro stations for the revamped and integrated Delhi airport instead of one. While one station will be in operation by 2010, provision will be there to operate the other station as per need. We asked DMRC to provide two Metro stations keeping future needs and traffic volume in mind."

To raise funds for development, GMR Infrastructure Ltd would enter the capital market on July 31, with an initial public issue of Rs 38,136,980 equity shares of Rs 10 each. The price band of the issue has been fixed at Rs 210- Rs 250 for an equity share of Rs 10 each. The issue opens on July 31 and closes on August 4, 2006.

The company had set early success targets for completion within four months. These were facelift for terminal 1-B, renovation of toilets, improved housekeeping standards and improved seating arrangements.

To maintain harmonious relations with the employees of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which was till now managing the airport, the is taking several initiatives, including supplying lip-smacking variety of dishes at subsidized rates in the three staff canteens.

Among other steps towards pleasant experience, Delhi airport has acquired new cars, including two Toyoto Innovas and a Camry, for the rich and famous as well as the high and mighty.
This has been done as there were complaints that the cars that were available at airport were not in good condition. So it was decided to invest some money in these vehicles to cater to people who travel by private jets and VIPs.

These cars will ferry passengers to their flights and ensure that they reach the tarmac in grand style. With quite a few private jets being parked at the Delhi airport -- officials claim that there are around 14 parking spots for them -- there has been a demand for better vehicles.

SriLankan offers free tickets to Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 10: At a time when the fuel prices are going northward, several domestic and international airlines are offering sops to woo the growing numbers of Indians traveling abroad. The travel schemes come with very attractive fares, hotel stay and sightseeing.

Believe it or not Sri Lankan Airlines, the largest foreign airline into India, is offering free ticket to Bangkok, Singapore or Malaysia. The airline, which connects nine cities in India, is not only offering free tickets to these three destinations but is offering two nights and three days hotel accommodation with breakfast on twin sharing basis in Colombo at an attractive price of Rs 14,900 plus taxes, according to Mr Sharuka Wickrama-Adittiya, airline's Manager stationed in New Delhi.

"The package that includes airport transfers and a half-day tour of Colombo is valid till August 31," says Wickrama-Adittiya. If your cup of happiness is not full yet, the airline is offering to extend the ticket from its hub in Colombo to Maldives for Rs 3,000 and to Beijing for Rs 4,000. "The special package is being offered in association with the airline's tourism arm, SriLankan Holidays," he adds.

He informed that beginning November 1 SriLankan was launching Goa as its 10th destination taking its frequency to 90 per week between Colombo and India. "Right now our frequency is 88 including three flights per week between Mumbai and Karachi," he added.

The airline has daily flights from Colombo to New Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad and 15 flights per week to Chennai, 10 to Trichy, 11 to Cochin, 12 to Trivendrum and nine per week to Calicut. The Sri Lanka national carrier, which flies to 49 destinations in 28 countries, also offers convenient connecting flights to Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Middle East.

Wickrama-Adittiya said the air services agreement allows us to fly to 25 destinations in India, including the metros. "I hope there will be further relaxations in the agreement to allow us increase our frequency to the Indian metros," he added.

He said "India and China are the world's two emerging markets. Sri Lanka and India have a traditional long-term friendship where we consider India as our big brother. We look at India positively. We feel Colombo is an ideal hub for the region from where we can create a distribution network."

He said out main purpose to increase travel between India and Sri Lanka. He said Sri Lanka is an ideal holiday destination. "We have several advantages. The first being One Indian rupee equals 2.3 Sri Lankan rupees. Besides snow, we offer everything else - be it sun, sea or sand. We also have white water rafting, wild life, hills, and carpets of tea among other attractions."

He said "shopping is very popular with the tourists. We offer international brands at much lower prices and our top shopping places include House of Fashion and Odale in Colombo."
Wickrama-Adittiya said "we are also planning a tour of Ramayana places. These include Sitawaka in the Avissawella (Ratnapura district), Lankapura and Sitaeliya in Welimada (Nuwara Eliya district), Maligatenne (Bandarawela district)."

Of special note is the Hakgalla garndens where the Royal Park had being laid out and where Sita often wandered, longing for her husband, Rama, and home. It was here that Hanuman found her.

He informed that the airline, through its domestic arm - SriLankan Air Taxi, offers the exhilarating experience of water landing at some of the most popular tourist destinations.
"SriLankan Air Taxi is giving passengers the opportunity of experiencing an exhilarating water landing on the Bentota River with its weekend scenic flights on our amphibious turbo Otter aircraft," he said.

The flight, which departs from Ratmalana, takes a route that gives passengers breathtaking views of the diverse landscapes of the Paradise Isle, flying only a few thousand feet above the ground which is far lower than the height of regular commercial aircraft. The aircraft first heads south to Kalutara and inland from where passengers are very likely to get a birds-eye view of towering Adam's Peak and the central hills during the clear skies.

The journey includes flying down the valley of the Kalu Ganga towards the warm blue waters of the Indian Ocean, and a water landing at Bentota - still one of Sri Lanka's most popular resorts with its sparkling golden beaches. The flight then proceeds back to Ratmalana, flying northwards along the coast for a picture postcard view of the Southwestern coastline.

SriLankan Air Taxi has made any part of the island accessible within an hour for foreign tourists, local holidaymakers, businessmen and NGO persons. It now operates to 15 locations - Katunayake, Ratmalana, Katukurunda, Bentota, Galle (Koggala), Dickwella, Weerawila, Ampara, Kandy (Victoria Reservoir & Mahaweli River), Nuwara Eliya, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Hingurakgoda, and Trincomalee.

SriLankan Air Taxi's other services include daily scheduled return flights from Colombo to Bentota and Koggala, carrying passengers from Colombo to Bentota in comfort in less than half an hour, and on to Koggala in another 40 minutes. In comparison, a road trip to Bentota can take up to three hours, and four hours to Koggala.

Sri Lanka's National Carrier has in recent years achieved global recognition for its standards in excellence, winning such prestigious titles as "World's Best Airline" in a survey of Economy Class passengers, "World's Friendliest Cabin Staff", first runner-up for "World's Best Cabin Staff", "Best Overall Inflight Entertainment (for a fleet size of 20 or less)", and "World's Most Efficient Operator of Airbus A330s (in the small fleet category)" from Airbus Industrie.

SriLankan has also dominated regional awards, winning the Skytrax award for Best Airline in Central Asia for four consecutive years, as well as the TTG Asia Award for Best Airline in South Asia three times.

SriLankan Airlines was among the top five airlines that came up tops in the inaugural "Changi Airline Awards" for the highest growth in passenger numbers into Singapore in 2005. Given by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the awards recognised the strong partnership between the authority and over 80 airlines operating to Changi Airport.

Russian plane crashes in Siberia; 150 dead

MOSCOW, July 9: A Russian passenger plane crashed on landing in the Siberian city of Irkutsk early on Sunday, killing around 150 passengers, Russian news agencies reported.

The plane, on a flight from Moscow to Irkutsk, veered off the runway as it was landing at about 7:50 am local time (2250 GMT on Saturday) and burst into flames, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said. Andrianova said 43 people were taken to a hospital and another 10 managed to escape.

Most of the other passengers were feared dead, she said. The Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies reported that around 150 people had died, quoting a preliminary toll from the regional prosecutor's office and transport ministry.

The Sibir Airbus A-310 was carrying a crew of eight and 192 passengers, she said. "The aircraft veered off the runway on landing. It was travelling at a terrific speed,'' Andrianova said.

The plane hit a concrete barrier, collapsing the front section of the aircraft, she said. It then burst into flames. It took five emergency services more than two hours to extinguish the flames, Andrianova said.

The ITAR-Tass news agency reported that many children were among the passengers. They were travelling on vacation on Lake Baikal, which is near Irkutsk, the agency said. The city lies about 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) east of Moscow. The Emergency Situations Ministry official said there was no information yet about the likely cause of the crash.

In May, another Airbus aircraft crashed in stormy weather off Russia's Black Sea coast while readying to land, killing all 113 people on board. Airline officials said they believed the crash of the Armenian passenger plane was due to driving rain and low visibility.

Jazeera offers Rs 1,300 ticket to Kuwait

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 5: Despite hike in fuel surcharge leading to rise in fares by major domestic airlines like Jet Airways and the Indian, there is some good news for the passengers. Air Sahara and Go Air have announced attractive fares and discounts and Kuwait's new low-cost carrier, Jazeera Airways, is offering tickets and an unbelievable price of US $ 30 (Rs 1,300) to Kuwait City.

Jazeera, which launched direct flight to Mumbai and Delhi on Monday, has already created a ripple of excitement in travel and trade industry. Last year low-cost carriers, Air India Express and Air Arabia, had brought fares to the Dubai and some other Gulf cities to Rs 5,000. But Jazeera's one way fare of Rs 1,300 or ten Kuwait Dinars is rock bottom.

In an interview with this correspondent, Jazeera Chairman and CEO Marwan Boodai said "in the short span of eight months we have stimulated the market in the Gulf region and we plan to repeat that in India."

Boodai informed that Jazeera, Kuwait's new national airline and the first private carrier in the Middle East, launched its first flight to Dubai on October 30, 2005. Besides New Delhi and Mumbai, the airline in a short span of eight months has connection to Dubai, Beirut, Amman, Bahrain, Aleppo, Luxor, Damascus and Alexandria. Understanding that Indian also prefer to travel to Europe, Boodai said "we are also contemplating to fly to European cities like Frankfurt, London and Paris."

He said the airline plans to add more Indian cities, preferably Hyderabad and Cochin, in the near future. "Right now we started our initial operations with a quota of 1,300 seats each week. More flights will depend on the bilateral air service talks between India and Kuwait later this month," he added.

Boodai said the airline, which now has three Airbus A-320s, would add another by this weekend and one more in the next six months. Jazeera had already placed firm orders for ten A-320s with options for another six.

He said the airline had a new low cost model with two classes - Jazeera and Jazeera Plus (premium economy). "Fares depend on the market-driven scenario and seasonal fluctuations. But the earlier you book, better the price you get.''

The Chairman said "India is strategic market for Jazeera and our expansion to India marks a major milestone in the development of Jazeera. India is identified as one of the world's fastest growing aviation markets, which offers huge potential for us to offer value for money travel to larger section of Indian travellors." He said "our airline brings easy online booking and payment, online seat reservations and brand new planes, offering freedom of travel and safety of our passengers.''

With the Middle East sector being the largest market for India outbound travellers accounting for 34 per cent, India's travel and tourism industry was the third fastest growing globally after China and Montenegro. "Only two per cent of total India travels by air and there is a middle class comprising 10 per cent of total population, so one can see there is a tremendous potential for travel growth. We at Jazeera Airways are extremely positive about this growth,'' he said.

Besides Jazeera, Air Sahara, after its break up with Jet Airways, introduced a limited low-economy return fare offer of Rs 8,500 plus taxes on its Delhi-Singapore sector to win back passengers. The tickets for this would have to be booked by July 15 and travel must commence by this month-end. The maximum duration of stay at Singapore allowed under this fare would be 20 days.

On Monday, Air Sahara had announced the re-launch of its 'Sixer in Air' scheme, offering six economy flight coupons worth Rs 26,000 for travel on any domestic sector up to September 30. Flights on two sectors - Delhi-Dibrugarh and Delhi-Cochin - would entail two tickets instead of one for other sectors under the 'Sixer' scheme, which is open for sale till July 15, after which the fare would be revised to Rs 31,500, inclusive of taxes and surcharge.

On Monday, Wadia-promoted GoAir announced a 10 per cent reduction on its base fares for all central and state government employees, current and ex-armed forces officers, students and senior citizens. Wadia said this will remain a permanent feature.

These discounts are happening at a time when Jet Airways and Indian have announced imposition of a revised fuel surcharge of Rs 500 from July 7, which would lead to a hike in fares of all classes on all domestic routes. The airlines took the decision in view of the rising price of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) by over Rs 900, taking the ATF prices to over whopping Rs 41,000 per kilolitre.

Pilots' shortage big hurdle in expanding helicopter services

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 2: Helicopter services give a new dimension to growth of tourism in the country, especially in the far-flung hilly areas. These machines are also used for religious tourism for places like Kedarnath, Badrinath, Amarnath and Mata Vishno Devi shrines. World-wide helicopters are also used for medical emergencies and evacuation of people in other emergent situations. Traffic management and ferrying of people from one area to another is another service.

However, shortage of trained pilots has come as a big hurdle in the growth of helicopter services in India. Although State-run Pawan Hans Helicopters is keen to buy more helicopters to meet growing demand for its services, the helicopter major is facing a shortage of pilots.

Under the 11th Five Year Plan beginning April, 2002 to March, 2007, we were authorised to buy 10 new helicopters. "We have already bought six and four more (two Bells and two Dauphins from France-based Eurocopter) are expected by next year. But more than buying aircraft, plying the helicopters is a worry," admitted Mr Nagar V Sridhar in an interview with this correspondent on the last day in office as Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of Pawan Hans.

Mr Sridhar, who took over as CMD in June 2002 and demitted office on June 30, 2006, brought about professionalism in Pawan Hans through his astute administration and setting new standards. He moves on to join International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Botswana.

Mr Sridhar said that as many as 35 to 45 pilots of Pawan Hans had either left or retired from the company during 2002-05. "Though we have been able to induct the same number of new pilots, the experience of pilots is very important, especially in off-shore flights," he added. He informed that it takes Rs 21 lakhs to train a helicopter pilot as compared to Rs 6 lakhs for a fixed wing pilot. However, a helicopter pilot gets 60 per cent of salary of his fixed wing counterpart.

It has also now become easier for a helicopter pilot to shift to fixed wing aircraft. For example, after flying 1,000 hours he needs only 100 hours of flying training, as compared to 2000 hours for others, to get a license for a fixed wing aircraft.

Mr Sridhar admitted that the relaxation of the retiring age for pilots by the government has given "some relief" to the firm. At a function in New Delhi on Thursday, Mr Sridhar accepted a delivery certificate for the fourth Bell 407 from the Bell India chief, Wing Commander (Retd) B S Singhdeo. Also present on the occasion were Bell officials, Mr Jay Oritiz (Campaign Director, International Military Sales) and Mr Greg Hubbard (Director Communications) and Ajit Thosar (GM Defence Aerospace, Rolls-Royce).

"This 407 that we received today will increase our ability to continue to expand our business and meet the growing demand for helicopter services in India," said Mr Sridhar. All the seven Bells out of a fleet of 33 owned by Pawan Hans are powered by the Rolls-Royce Model 250 turbine engine. The latest Bell 407 will be used to meet the requirement of the Government of Punjab for VIP transport.

Mr Sridhar said "the Bell 407 is the ideal helicopter to perform in the adverse conditions presented in Kedarnath and the Shri Amarnath Dham. It has been giving us a trouble free service."

Mr Ajit Thosar said "the Rolls-Royce model 250 engine is proven to be reliable, supportable and maintainable and is a great contributor to the Bell 407's in India."

Apart from buying new helicopters, Pawan Hans is looking at upgrading its existing fleet. "We have already sent one Dauphin helicopter to France and will be retrofitting 17 more Dauphins in the country to increase their life by 10-15 years," he said.

During Mr Sridhar's tenure, Pawan Hans gained strength day by day and the company not only paid to the Government (Ministry of Civil Aviation) record dividends but also paid pending annual dividends of Rs 66.70 crore for the three financial years 1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2001-02.

In other words, the company, during Mr Sridhar's tenure of four years, has paid dividends for seven financial years. For the financial year 2003-04, it paid the highest-ever dividend of Rs 17.50 crore and surpassed the record in the following year (2004-05) by paying higher dividend of Rs 22.75 crore.

In the year 2005-06, the company's 12 helicopters were damaged in Mumbai during floods. Despite the loss of revenue due to grounding of these machines, Pawan Hans paid an interim dividend of Rs 9.10 crore for the year. It hopes to pay Rs 20 crore as final dividend for the financial year 2005-06. Meanwhile, Pawan Hans has built a three-foot high ramp at Juhu airport in Mumbai on which five to six helicopters can be parked.

Pawan Hans has a strong presence in the North East operating its Bell helicopters in the States of Sikkim and Tripura and the NHPCL project in the North East. Regular passenger services are being run under the aegis of these State Governments as other mode of transport is difficult in those hilly terrains.

Airlines launch special offers to woo passengers

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 24: Despite the hike in fuel prices, Indian and foreign carriers have announced special fares and schemes to capture market share during the lean monsoon season. On the domestic front, airlines such as GoAir, Air Deccan, Kingfisher and Spice Jet have announced special fares.

Kingfisher Airlines has introduced its first companion offer for business class passengers at half the cost. Under the First Companion Offer all guests traveling onboard Kingfisher First- Kingfisher Airlines premium first class cabin, on full fare tickets can fly along a companion of their choice at half the fare on the same flight. The offer is valid for travel until September 30.

To avail the Kingfisher First Companion offer all that a guest needs to do is buy a ticket for Kingfisher First on full fare and at the same time nominate their companion to enjoy 50 per cent discount on their ticket on the same flight onboard Kingfisher First. The tickets can be booked at any of Kingfisher Airlines' conveniently located Ticketing Offices or through the Call centers.

Mr. Girish Shah, General Manager Marketing, Kingfisher Airlines Ltd. said, "At Kingfisher Airlines, our endeavor is to consistently come up with new and innovative schemes for our guests, to facilitate their maximum convenience and ensued patronage. Our latest promotion is in keeping with this tradition, and The First Companion Offer is all set to treat not only our regular guests, but their companions as well".

On the international front, Indian, formerly known as Indian Airlines, has announced a special fare from destinations in Kerala to Bangkok via Chennai. The special fare would be Rs 8,950 plus taxes for passengers flying from Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode via Chennai to Bangkok. The airline has also announced special package fares starting from Rs 12,215 plus taxes which include airfare, airport transfers, breakfast and sightseeing trips.

SriLankan Airlines, in association with SriLankan Holidays, has introduced a special holiday package to attract visitors from Kerala to Sri Lanka. The package, which is priced at Rs 11,111 per person, is valid only on specific flights from Thiruvananthapuram to Colombo.

The package includes economy class airfare, with all taxes, on the Thiruvananthapuram-Colombo sector and accommodation in a three-star hotel in Colombo for two nights and three days on a twin-share basis, says a press release. The package also includes breakfast on two days, airport transfers and a half-day tour of Colombo. The special package is valid till July 31, the release adds.

In this month itself, Malaysian Airlines and Tourism Malaysia have announced more packages called 'the great Malaysian holiday bazaar" in India commencing from Rs 13,333. The package per person includes airfare and four days and three nights accommodation with a bonus of winning attractive gifts.

This marketing initiative, in association with six tour operators, also kick starts the first tactical promotion by the tourism board under the Visit Malaysia Year 2007 campaign. The concept of "Holiday Bazaar" revolves around three objectives, value for money discounted holiday packages to various destinations in Malaysia and on destinations beyond KL on Malaysia Airlines; it offers a chance for the confirmed traveler to win prizes ranging from a car to i-pods and thirdly to induce arrival growth and create awareness of the destination among the masses for existing and new places.

"Malaysia Holiday Bazaar" would comprise of 5 different packages, with the base package for INR 13,333 per person for 4Days/ 3Nights, to either Kula Lumpur or Penang or Langkawi which includes airfare, accommodation on twin sharing with breakfast in star category hotel, airport transfers and half day site seeing.

The bookings for this 15 day bazaar would be made available only from select travel agent offices and through their network across the country. These bookings are only till July 3. A traveler on this package would need to complete the return journey before September 30.

Announcing this tactical marketing initiative, Mr Manoharan, Director Tourism Malaysia, India said "The concept of 'bazaar' is very typical in the Indian market wherein it is associated with great offers and genuine value for money deals.

"The Great Malaysian Holiday Bazaar based on the same principal would be the first ever 'Only Holiday Bazaar' offering exotic holiday's at the most affordable price with chances of winning exiting prizes too. This offer would be valid for a limited time period and we are confident of making more than 20,000 bookings during this period."

The bazaar would also offer holiday packages to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu for Rs 17,499 for the same duration; with Rs 1000 increase in each sector during the second week of bookings. The package cost does not include taxes.

The revelry of the "The Great Malaysia Holiday Bazaar" can be witnessed at any of the booking outlets of SOTC, Thomas Cook, TCI, Cox & Kings, JTB Travels and Raj Travels. The value additions during the bazaar would not be just the holiday packages to these five destinations in Malaysia; Malaysia Airlines in its endeavor to promote "Beyond Kuala Lumpur routes" will offer four key routes of Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong and China at a special additional fare via Kuala Lumpur of Rs 500; Rs 1,500; Rs 4,500 and Rs 8,500 respectively, which would also include 4Days/ 3Nights accommodation on twin sharing with breakfast, airport transfers and half day site seeing in Kuala Lumpur.

'Open skies' generate jobs, wealth: PATA

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 16: Liberalised air service agreements (open sky policies) generate multiple economic benefits, including more jobs, more travel and tourism and more opportunities for consumers and carriers, according to a new global study by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and 11 industry groups.

"The benefits to global economies from open sky policies are real and substantive," said PATA President and CEO Mr Peter de Jong. "For example, liberalising just 320 of the world's 2,000 restrictive air routes would generate economic value comparable to the Brazilian economy, generating 24.1 million full-time jobs and a US$490 billion contribution to global wealth."

The unprecedented study, entitled 'Economic Impact of Air Service Liberalization', quantifies the economic impacts of changes in aviation policy based on an economic model developed by InterVISTAS-ga2 Consulting. Data from more than 190 nations and 2,000 country-pairs (international air routes) was used.

The study stated that countries that liberalised air traffic experienced growth in air traffic of at least 12 per cent to more than 50 per cent. It said fully liberalising the United States-United Kingdom market alone would create 117,000 new jobs and generate US $7.8 billion in economic value.

The creation of the Single European Aviation Market in 1993 led to an average annual growth rate in traffic between 1995 and 2004 that was almost double the rate of growth that existed between 1990 and 1994 -- and it created 1.4 million new jobs.

InterVISTAS President Mr Jon Ash said: "International air commerce today is still governed by a framework of rules laid down in the post-World War II era. Despite today's trend toward global markets, free trade, the Internet and the economic integration of entire continents, one of the most global, technology-intensive industries -- commercial aviation -- remains encumbered by rules that stifle competition and prevent airlines, communities, passengers and shippers from benefiting to the fullest."

Industry groups involved in the study included Airports Council International (ACI), Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, the Boeing Company, the European-American Business Council, the Franco-American Chamber of Commerce, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is a membership association acting as a catalyst for the responsible development of the Asia Pacific travel and tourism industry. In partnership with PATA's private and public sector members, we enhance the sustainable growth, value and quality of travel and tourism to, from and within the region."

Founded in 1951, PATA is the recognised authority on Asia Pacific travel and tourism. PATA provides leadership and advocacy to the collective efforts of nearly 100 government, state and city tourism bodies, more than 55 airlines and cruise lines, and hundreds of travel industry companies. In addition, thousands of travel professionals belong to dozens of PATA chapters worldwide. PATA is a not-for-profit organisation.

Jet launches 'Kiosk Check-ins'

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: After capturing the largest market share and acquiring Air Sahara, the private carrier, Jet Airways, has launched India's first-ever "Kiosk Check-in" facility to benefit its domestic e-ticketing passengers. Last week, Jet also celebrated the first anniversary of its popular Mumbai-London flight and earned the distinction of completing one year of uninterrupted flying without a single technical cancellation.

The new "Kiosk Check-in" facility is available globally in most airports and is yet another proof of airline's intentions to introduce service excellence in India and offer customers a seamless experience.

Kiosk Check-in can be completed at Jet Airways' kiosks located at the airport. When a customers uses kiosk check-in, the system performs a name check, verifies the PNR, enables passengers to select their preferred seats and print their boarding passes using the printer integrated with the kiosk. Kiosk Check-in enables passengers carrying only hand baggage to proceed directly for security check and thus experience a hassle-free check-in.

Speaking about the initiative, airline's Vice President (Marketing), Mr Gaurang Shetty, said, "Increasingly customers find self service devices like Bank ATMs very convenient, especially for repeat activity chores and the self service kiosk is one such initiative where customers with hand baggage can check themselves in and proceed straight to the boarding gate without any human intervention."

Each Kiosk machine costs $10,000 and initially, the facility would be offered from June 1 in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore airports. Jet plans to introduce the kiosks in 25 cities across the country.

The airline's CEO, Mr Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, said the new facility would have to be used in conjunction with e-tickets only. "Currently 20 per cent of Jet's ticketing is being done by e-ticketing. In three months, this will go up to 50 per cent and by 2007, we should take it to 100 per cent,'' he informed.

Travel agents, who are the biggest channel for airlines, are currently not allowed to issue e-tickets. "However, once the bank settlement plan opens up in about a month's time, and travel agents are allowed to issue e-tickets, it will increase manifold and I see around 2,000 travel agents being able to do so,'' said the CEO.

He said the domestic civil aviation market grew 30 per last year and in the last two to three months; it has grown at 45 to 50 per cent. Jet has a 36 per cent market share in the industry as a stand-alone airline and with Sahara, it would be the clear market leader.

The Check-in operates through a customized kiosk system, with a dedicated and direct connectivity to the airline check-in system. The kiosk performs thorough passenger identification through a valid swipe card (e.g. Credit Card, debit card, JP Card) for authentication. For security reasons, the name on the swipe card and the PNR (reservation record) must be the same.

A group of up to a maximum of seven passengers and a maximum of three segments per passenger at a time can use the facility. Check-in must be completed anytime between 24 hours and 45 minutes prior to flight departure. Kiosk check-in would also facilitate domestic return and through check-in, single and multiple passenger check-in.

The airline, which celebrated its first anniversary of Mumbai-London route on May 23, has had a seat factor over 70 per cent since inception. The flight is one of the most popular on this route and has enabled Jet Airways establish itself as a formidable player in the aviation industry. Jet Airways is one of the few airlines in the world to receive the ISO 9001 certification for their in-flight service.

The airline operates Mumbai-London flight with a fleet of young A340-300 E aircraft in a 38 Premiere and 231 Economy class seat configuration. Premiere provides a seat pitch of 73 inches offering passengers one of the world's best flat bed seats. The economy class offers one of the most advanced In-Flight Entertainment systems (IFE) in the industry. Jet Airways expects to further strengthen its position on this route when it launches a second Mumbai-London night departure flight from July 10.

The airline also saved about $120,000 by hedging its jet fuel costs through a forward contract in April with Citibank for 10,000 barrels. Jet hedged at a price of $73 per barrel and planned to increase hedging volumes when oil prices eased, according to Carl Saldanha, chief financial officer.

"Hedging will cut some volatility in cash flows, resulting in better cash management," he said. Jet Airways has got approval from India's central bank to hedge fuel requirement for its international operations accounting for about 10 percent, or 300,000 barrels, of its total demand in a year, Saldanha said. Aviation fuel, which makes up almost 30 percent of an airline's operating cost, is now hovering at $84.4 a barrel at the benchmark Singapore index.

India's flagship international carrier Air-India in March became the first Indian airline to hedge its jet fuel cost. Air-India had hedged 10,000 barrels through a combination of swaps, options and collars through Citigroup.

Airport employees seek better conditions, threaten strike

NEW DELHI, May 31: Unrest is again brewing among airport employees with the unions warning of strike if urgent steps were not taken to meet their "long-pending" demands. The umbrella body of the four Airports Authority of India unions, AAI Employees Joint Forum, has written to Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel seeking his intervention in getting the AAI management to implement the demands.

The most pressing demands included pension and some social security schemes, restructuring of various cadres, filling up of vacant posts and revision of allowances. "Before our patience goes out, we would request you to kindly take necessary corrective actions or else we may be driven to the brink of another industrial unrest for which the total responsibility shall not rest on us alone", the Forum warned.

Leaders of the Forum, which had struck work for four days in February, also alleged that there was no "transparency" in the privatisation process for Delhi and Mumbai airports. "The developments in the privatisation process were completed in a fast manner that it required midnight transfer of power at Delhi and Mumbai airports to the private entities. The OMDA (Operation, Maintenance and Development Agreement), which was executed with the private parties, was kept a closely guarded secret and was not even shared with the Joint Forum," the letter said.

Aviation sector should handle 40 pc of international trade: IACC

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 19: The Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) has said that the capacity of domestic airports to handle foreign trade in value terms should be enhanced to 40 per cent of the total trade from the present level of 30 per cent.

At a time when zero or minimum inventories are the buzzwords across the corporate world, Dr Vivek Lall, Chairman of the chamber's national committee on "Civil Aviation and Aerospace and Managing Director, Boeing India, said the country has to create strong physical infrastructure to empower trade and industry. "This is possible only when a strong network of airports is created to serve both the domestic and international markets," said Dr Lall.

Complimenting the Government for giving the right focus on aviation sector in the recent days, he said that there are over 80 small and large airports that require immediate modernization. "A few more greenfield airports should be set up. This will have a multiplier effect on the aviation sector in particular and economy in general."

He said "positive spin-offs of these investments are not only the capacity building for more traffic handling -- both passenger and cargo -- but also creating a pan-India appeal for tourism development in the country. In its wake, the backward and forward linkages of the aviation sector will generate millions of gainful employment in the country."

The chamber has estimated that an investment of $10 billion would be required over the next five years to modernise airport infrastructure and create Greenfield projects. "Innovative funding matrices should be drawn up to plug the resource gap and to reverse the legacy of under-investment in the aviation sector. Private-public partnership holds the key to implementation of such projects in a time bound manner and to tie down the huge resource requirement," Dr Lall said.

Already, there are instances of private--public partnerships for modernization of airports in Mumbai and Delhi and also for creation of Greenfield airport in Hyderabad. "What we should focus is multiplication of such success stories to over 80 airports that require modernization or to be set up as Greenfield projects," he said.

Dr Lall said that the recent Umbrella Agreement approved by the cabinet and due to be signed between India and US in the aviation sector can give a critical push to the co-operation between the two countries in the aviation sector. The Federal Aviation Administration can co-operate with Indian Aviation Ministry and Airports Authority of India for financing and implementing aviation infrastructure projects, he added.

Jet, Lufthansa frequent flyer partnership

NEW DELHI: Jet Airways and Lufthansa German Airlines have entered into a reciprocal frequent flyer agreement. Frequent flyer members of both Jet Airways and Lufthansa will benefit by way of earning and redeeming frequent flyer miles while travelling across the network of the two airlines. This partnership is in effect from May 1 this year.

Members of the Jet Privilege programme can now enjoy the convenience of Lufthansa's global connectivity and earn JPMiles when they travel on any of Lufthansa's 42 weekly flights to Frankfurt/Munich from Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The benefits of this partnership extend to Lufthansa's entire network of 13,200 weekly flights across 188 destinations across 78 countries.

Similarly members of Lufthansa's frequent flyer programme, Miles & More can also accrue and redeem their miles on all flights operated by Jet Airways, gaining better connectivity across Jet Airways' domestic and international network to 48 destinations.

Speaking on the occasion, Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, Chief Executive Officer, Jet Airways said, "The unique advantages offered through this programme shows the customer focus of the two companies, and their commitment to the discerning consumers. The growth trends being witnessed in frequent flyer programmes, both in India and abroad, and the resulting increase in the consumer demand are guiding our FFP strategy."

Mr. Werner Heesen, General Manager Passenger Sales India and Director South Asia, Lufthansa German Airlines said, "India is a strategic market for Lufthansa and we foresee tremendous growth coming from this region. In the last few years we have taken several initiatives relating to in-flight experience, quality and innovation and enhancing connectivity. This initiative further strengthens our commitment to always provide the Lufthansa experience of 'there's no better way to fly' to our passengers."

Air Deccan gets into IPO mode

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 13: With the stock market on the record breaking trajectory, the aviation industry is waking up to mop up funds from the Initial Public Offer (IPO) mode. Jet Airways was the first airline to raise funds from the public and it did it in grand style. Now the country's first low-cost airline, Air Deccan, has announced plans to open its IPO. The other airlines are also contemplating to go the market and these include Kingfisher, Indian and Air India and Jagson Airlines.

Despite running up losses of up to Rs 300 crore, the Air Deccan management is confident its flight plan is dead on target. While the airline is filling up 75 to 80 per cent of the seats, money is yet to start pouring in. Low fares on the face of a high cost structure, inherent in the domestic aviation industry, is clearly putting pressure on yields.

The no-frills airline has set a price band of Rs 150-175 a share for its initial public offer, which is set to open on May 18. The airline hopes to raise Rs 400-425 crore through this offering - a reduction from its previous plan to raise Rs 700 crore through the IPO.

The airline plans to use the funds for debt repayment and infrastructure development, said John Kuruvilla, Chief Revenue Officer and Head Commercial, Air Deccan. "We believe the IPO pricing offers a fair value for our prospective shareholders," he said. The carrier has delayed the IPO to May due to lack of time to market its offer.

Capt Gopinath, Air Deccan's Managing Director, had launched the airline in 2003 to fulfill his dream to see the common man fly. After having achieved that, Capt Gopinath now has to ensure return on shareholders' investment.

"There are competitive pressures. We are yet not sure when we will start making money," he admitted. Kuruvilla was also non-committal on when an investor can expect returns on the stocks.

Dinesh Desai, Finance Controller, Air Deccan, said the airline is bang on target as far as the business focus is concerned. The airline plans to use the Rs 400 crore that it is raising from public to buy planes, widen the route network, debt repayment and infrastructure development. This would include setting up a training centre at Bangalore and setting up a hangar facility for base and medium-level maintenance checks at Chennai.

Deccan Aviation, the operator of Air Deccan, is expected to break even in next two years. "The airline will become profitable with in 18 to 24 months with the help of better yield management," said Kuruvilla.

He said that the company's expenses are 50 per cent lower in terms of cost compared to full service airlines. "Air Deccan has better aircraft utilisation and is offering more seats. As of March 31, the airline has orders in place for future delivery of 96 aircraft which are scheduled to be delivered up to December 2012," he said.

Enam Financial Consultants Private and ICICI Securities are book running lead managers for the issue and Karvy Computershare Private is the registrar to the issue. The issue is being made through the 100 per cent book building process wherein at least 50 per cent of the issue shall be allotted to Qualified Institutional Buyers on a proportionate basis out of which five per cent shall be available for allocation on a proportionate basis to mutual funds only.

Further, up to 15 per cent of the issue or the issue less allotment of the QIB portion and allocation to retail individual bidders will be allocated to non-institutional bidders. The equity shares of the company are proposed to be listed on the NSE and the BSE.

Chhatwal, New Member (Finance), AAI

NEW DELHI: Mr Satish C Chhatwal has taken over has Member (Finance) with Airports Authority of India (AAI). Prior to joining AAI, he was working as Director (Finance) in NALCO where he handled funds to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore.

His remarkable achievements in the field of financial management relate to cost reduction, cost control and timely completion of annual accounts. An expert in finalizing MoU and policy formulation, he has vast experience in handling various facets of financial management, which has placed him in a distinguished category.

Apart from his experience at various senior management positions in different PSU's, he has experience in transport and hospitality sectors. During his stint in ITDC as Director (Finance), he devised a number of strategies, which contributed to improving operational results and better financial control. He was also instrumental in computerization of the ITDC accounting including online reservations through its own website.

As Controller of accounts in RITES, he played a key role in the introduction of management accounting (computerized), systematic control of projects both domestic and more than 30 foreign projects spread over 20 counties.

As resource person, he undertook various overseas assignments with the World Bank Assisted Projects in Training in Financial Management in Swaziland, Africa and was the Course Diector for preparation of Performance Based Budgeting.

Bell 407 Helicopter Makes History at HAL Facility

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 1: History was made last week in Bangalore when Bell Helicopter delivered a 407 helicopter to VSL Mining Company, Karanataka. Although it is the 19th Bell 407 model to be delivered in India, this particular helicopter has the distinction of being the first foreign registered aircraft assembled and delivered at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) facility in Bangalore.

Additional firsts associated with it include, VSL Mining is the first mining company to own a helicopter in India; and this Bell 407 is the first helicopter to be positioned in the mine rich area of Sandur and Bellary, Karnataka. Additionally, this 407 is owned by Mr. Anil H Lad, an industrialist and politician (member of Karnataka Legislative Assembly) who is the youngest helicopter owner in India.

According to Max Wiley, Bell's Executive Director for Asia, "Both Bell and HAL were equally excited that this assembly could be done at HAL since it exposed HAL to the complete process of assembly and delivery of the Bell 407 helicopter."

The Bell 407 is one of the two short listed candidates for the 197 helicopter Indian Army requirement and has successfully completed the technical evaluation. Army Aviation Corps (AAC), the aviation wing of Indian Army proposes to buy 60 helicopters outright with the remaining 137 being built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

"Right from the time it was suggested to HAL management that this assembly be allowed in their facility, they showed keen interest in making the whole assembly and delivery process a smooth sailing exercise," said, B.S. Singh Deo, Bell's resident country manager. HAL appointed a three member technical team to assist in the assembly, which was done at HAL's Cheetah Final Assembly Hanger in Bangalore.

Bell Helicopter's technical team conducted a pre-site inspection of the facility and was completely satisfied with the set-up. The whole HAL team was actively involved during the assembly, which was completed in less than one and a half day.The test flight was also completed on the second day and the helicopter was ready to be handed over to the customer! "It was simpler and faster than anyone would have possibly imagined," stated Singh Deo.

This delivery has initiated a new beginning of Bell Helicopter and HAL association. It has become the preface for a possible long association of Bell with HAL. Bell 407 has already proven its capabilities to the Indian Army by flying at a density altitude of 23000 ft. in Leh and demonstrating the complete engine change in a record breaking time of less than 2 hours.

Bell 407 has already established itself as the light single helicopter of choice in the commercial segment of the Indian market by operating successfully on diverse missions ranging from executive travels, Heli-tourism in erstwhile difficult terrains of Himalayas such as pilgrim transfer in Amarnath and Kedarnath and electronic news gathering. Its reliability, safety and high performance are the hallmarks of the 750 ubiquitous 407s flying all over the world.

Bell Helicopter is an industry-leading producer of commercial and military, manned and unmanned vertical lift aircraft and the pioneer of the revolutionary tilt rotor aircraft. Globally recognized for world-class customer service, innovation and superior quality, Bell's global workforce serves customers flying Bell aircraft in more than 120 countries.

The Bird Group bags contract from Berlin Airports

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 1: The Bird Group, one of India's largest conglomerates in the Travel and Information Technology arena, has won a contract from Berlin Airports to be their sole representative in India.

As part of this partnership, the Bird Group will support Berlin Airports in Indian market in the areas of marketing research, contact for decision makers of the Indian travel industry, travel organizers, travel agencies and airlines as well as airports. Additionally, Berlin Airports will support the Bird Group at local market level through cooperation with airlines and travel agencies in Berlin and Brandenburg.

Elaborating on this partnership, Mrs. Radha Bhatia, Chairperson, The Bird Group, said, "Over the past few years there has been a significant increase in the number of people traveling outside India and vice-a-versa. The investment friendly climate in India is also attracting more and more businesses to our country, with Germany being one of the key markets. Our partnership with Berlin Airports is a significant step towards further enhancing travel and tourism opportunities between India and Berlin".


Speaking at the occasion, Mr. Simon R. Miller, Business Development Manager, Berlin Airports, said, "We are pleased to partner with the Bird Group as they bring to table deep rooted knowledge about the travel and tourism industry. With this alliance, Berlin Airports will have a significant presence in India to reach out to the decision makers and establish Berlin as a preferred leisure and business destination".

The Bird Group is one of the largest diversified groups in the aviation, travel and information technology arena. A conglomerate of independent companies, the Bird Group seeks to provide solutions to upcoming challenges in the competitive aviation and travel business environment of today.

After ushering in an era of automation in the travel sector, the Bird Group pioneered Business Process Outsourcing and IT enabled services in the Indian Subcontinent. With a turnover of over 36 Million US Dollars, a workforce of nearly 2200 employees, 40 fully automated offices across the Indian subcontinent and multiple collaborations with leading global business organizations, the group continues to grow and strengthen its network of services.

The Berlin Airports, consisting of the airports Schönefeld, Tegel and Tempelhof, safeguard the air traffic infrastructure for the capital city region Berlin-Brandenburg. Berlin is better connected with the world than it is has ever been. Berlin is Germany's most-visited city and in 2004 surpassed Rome to become the third most popular destination in Europe.

In the summer of 2005, 90 airlines are flying to 149 destinations in 51 countries. The Berlin Airports are demonstrating record growth and, for the first time, have moved into third place in passenger count compared to other German airports.

The market share for the three Berlin airports is 10 percent and at 18 percent, the location is growing almost three times as fast as the average German passenger airport. Beyond that, Berlin is the largest low-cost airport on continental Europe. The overall employment effect of the Berlin airports is already 33,600 jobs. In the next few years the Schönefeld Airport will be expanded to become the new capital city airport Berlin Brandenburg International BBI.

India's first national air cargo hub at Nagpur

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 14: Nagpur airport will soon become India's first national air cargo hub with attractive tax holidays for those ready to boost the long untapped sector. The Government is preparing a policy that would promote Nagpur as a cargo hub and it is expected to be ready by June, according to Mr Praful Patel, Civil Aviation Minister.

"Business sops and tax holidays will be given to attract freight companies, national and international courier companies, airlines and allied sectors to set up business there," he said. "Operators will have access to air fuel at cheaper rates along with land infrastructure support, tax holidays and other sops to help them consolidate their business."

Nagpur airport is already linked to the Middle East and Southeast Asia besides several stations in India. It will support 365 days of all weather cargo operations with facilities like cold storages. It may be mentioned that Indian Airlines has already chosen Nagpur as its national freight operation hub. "The airport will have modern facilities and serve as a national cargo grid with warehouses and cold storages in a complex spread over 5,000 hectres," said the Minister.

"Considering the urgency for at least one national cargo hub, we will extend incentives for concessional landing and parking rates and navigational charges for about five years," said Mr Patel and added "cargo movements can significantly contribute to economic growth."

Stating that India has just five cargo freighter aircraft, the Minister said there was an urgent need to increase their number. He asked private firms to take more interest in the sector.
In an attempt to strengthen air cargo services and infrastructure, the Government is exploring all options including setting up joint venture companies between private parties and public sector airlines to launch cargo feeder service in the country.

"As the new fleet gets inducted into Air India and the Indian, which should start by this year end, some existing old generation aircraft (of these airlines) will be converted into freighters," said Mr Ajay Prasad, Civil Aviation Secretary.

Asked to elaborate on the plans to start cargo feeder services, Mr Prasad said that the proposals being considered by the Ministry were that either the national carriers run such a service as subsidiary, or they lease out their proposed freighter fleet to some private cargo carriers or start joint venture cargo firms with private equity participation. "We are open to all suggestions," he said.

As per plans, Indian is considering converting five Boeing 737-200s, now in the fleet of its subsidiary Alliance Air, into freighters. Air India is also planning to turn its ageing Airbus A-310 planes into freighters. Mr Prasad said the private sector could also come forward and lease land or space at various non-metro airports to set up cargo terminals and other related facilities.

Meanwhile, the Indian carriers with international operations can now look forward to picking up fuel at competitive rates from India for their outbound long-distance flights, thanks to the Annual Supplement to the Foreign Trade Policy (2004-09).

"The announcement made on recently would also be applicable to Indian carriers in respect of their outbound operations, but not for domestic operations," according to Mr K.T. Chacko, Director-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).

This clarification should come as a boost to not only Air India and Indian Airlines but private sector airlines such as Jet Airways and Air Sahara that operate international flights from India.
After the Commerce and Industry Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, announced the features of the annual supplement, a large section of domestic aviation industry was still not sure as to whether Indian carriers with international operations would get fuel in India at more competitive prices on account of this announcement.

It was felt that the benefit may not accrue to airlines from India for their international operations as the policy statement made by the Minister talked only about refuelling. It was held that the policy announcement was only intended to offer competitive fuel prices to attract mid-route stops of the international flights.

"Technically speaking, flights operated by airlines from India will not be going in for refuelling. Therefore, one will have to look at the fine print before it becomes clear as to whether we also benefit," said a senior official of airline of India that has international flights.

Mr Kamal Nath had said that supplies of stores (food, beverages and other supplies) and refuelling of long-distance flights had emerged as a big business opportunity. Currently, most airlines replenish supplies or refuel at Thailand, Malaysia, or Singapore.

The policy announcement is likely to benefit oil companies in terms of increased sales to more airlines. Recently, the Government allowed private sector oil companies to market aviation turbine fuel at Indian airports.

SWISS, SAA join Star Alliance

SWISS and South African Airways have become the 17th and 18th members of the world's biggest airline grouping, enabling it to offer customers a truly global network and all the benefits that alliance membership entails.

In addition to having a vast network of 842 destinations in 152 countries to choose from and harmonised timetables with which to plan their travel more conveniently, they also benefit from the reciprocal recognition of frequent flyer programmes, which allows them to earn and redeem miles on all flights operated by Star Alliance carriers.

The more than 660 Star Alliance lounges around the world are also now available to SWISS and SAA customers. With the inclusion of the two new member carriers, Star Alliance airlines will collectively operate close to 15 500 flights daily, more than any other airline alliance offers its customers.

Each year, some 425 million passengers board the more than 2,800 aircraft carrying the Star Alliance logo. A Star Alliance aircraft takes off or lands every three seconds somewhere in the world. This broad product reinforces Star Alliance''s position as the leading airline grouping, with a market share of more than 30 per cent.

Delhi, Mumbai to have additional airports

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 7: Even though Delhi and Mumbai airports would be handed over by month-end to two private consortia, headed by Hyderabad-based firms GVK and GMR, for modernising, the two mega cities would have additional airports to cater to the ever increasing air traffic and the burgeoning population.

The Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, admitted that the new Civil Aviation policy, which is under the consideration of the Union Cabinet and should be released later this month, has admitted for the need for additional airports in Delhi and Mumbai and other mega cities too. "Let the States come forward with plans for addtional airports," he said. The sources admitted that the responsibility of making these airports would come on Airports Authority of India (AAI) which had been managing the Delhi and Mumbai airports.

It may be mentioned that majority of mega cities worldwide have more than one airports. Take the case of New York, London, Paris et al. The airports in these mega cities are bigger than our airports. Experts admit that to the meet the super fast economic growth of India, it is high time that the Government unveils plans to meet the future challenges of these cities. "Otherwise we will still be taking decisions today of what should have been done yesterday," to quote Mr Praful Patel.

Delhi, which is part of the Nationa Capital Region (NCR), has already expanded beyond expectations and is still expanding at a fast pace. Its neighbouring States, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have expressed keen desire to have an airport. The Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who wants to make his State as Numero Uno, knows that an airport would bring faster prosperity to his region. He has even offered land near Delhi for an airport. The Central Government is considering Haryana's proposal.

Even Uttar Pradesh is keen to set up an airport in Nodia for its close proximity to Delhi. The State Government has also expressed desire to have an airport. However, nothing concrete has come up on this front. It is being felt that an additional airport in these mega cities would augur well for the people not only in terms of convenience but also lead to healthy competition and avoid monopolistic conditions.

The new policy will help India's booming civil aviation industry which needs to upgrade and modernise the network and keep pace with global developments. The new policy would call for changes in some existing legislations to encourage the state governments to enter the industry. The new policy draft has been prepared to capitalise, consolidate and strengthen the existing aviation industry infrastructure and expand the network across the country to sustain the annual growth of around 24 per cent. "Since the government does not have adequate resources, it is time to encourage private-public partnerships especially in areas like development of new airports and modernisation of existing ones," said Mr Patel.

Deal to privatise Delhi, Mumbai airports signed

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 4: The Government on Tuesday signed landmark agreements with two private consortia, headed by Hyderabad-based firms GVK and GMR, paving the way for modernising the airports at Mumbai and Delhi at a cost of $1.2 billion each.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) signed the Operation, management and development agreements (OMDAs) with the GMR Fraport group and GVK-SouthAfrican Airports Company group. The two private consortia had won the airport modernisation contracts in January, after an elaborate bidding process.

OMDA is one of the mother agreements governing the development of the two airports with the help of private developers. The agreement holds operational guidelines, duties and extent of control of the respective shareholders in the two government-private ventures over the two airports.

"The OMDA and the shareholders agreements have been signed. The Joint Venture companies are in place", said Mr Praful Patel, Civil Aviation Minister, after signing of the agreements.

The OMDAs and the shareholders agreements were signed by AAI Chief K Ramalingam and AAI Director V D V Prasada Rao in the presence of Patel and Civil Aviation Secretary Ajay Prasad.

Even as the agreements were being signed at the Ashoka Hotel in the capital, the employees took out a procession and later staged a demonstration at the Ministry headquarters at Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan in New Delhi. A large posse of police and CISF personnel were present to prevent any untoward incident.

In response to a question, Mr Patel said the initial deposit of Rs 150 crore each would be paid by the two groups "within a week, following which the process of transition will take place".

Asked whether the concerns of Left parties about the proceedings of Tripartite Committee, comprising representatives of the employees, the AAI and the Ministry, on airport modernisation were considered, the Minister said that the committee has held three meetings and reiterated that no employee would lose his or her job.

The agreements would bind the shareholders for a period of 30 years during which they would jointly develop, maintain, and operate the two airports. The two consortia are expected to complete the airports within a span of 36 months once the facilities are transferred to them. The transfer is expected to happen within the next two months.

GMR and GVK are expected to upgrade the two airports in terms of passenger capacity and facilities. At the same time they are also expected to increase the aircraft handling capacity of the two airports and provide additional and better operational runways.

The Minister refused to comment on the case filed by Anil Ambani's Reliance group against the modernisation process in Delhi High Court, but said the court has "permitted us to proceed" with signing of the OMDA and shareholders agreements.

Meanwhile, G V Krishna Reddy, CMD of the GVK group who signed the agreement for the modernisation of Mumbai airport, said: "We have the provisional license to operate the airport". Asked when the airport would actually be handed over to them, he said: "The ball is in the government's court, but I believe they are planning to do this as soon as possible".

Observing that the group was planning to invest Rs 5,000- 7,000 crore in five years, Reddy said: "My team is working hard to make it (modernisation work) happen... we will be paying Rs 200 crore as the first tranche to the government, including Rs 150 crore as the initial deposit very soon".

For the Delhi airport, the GMR led consortium comprises GMR Infrastructure, GMR Energy, GVL Investments, Fraport AG Airport Services Worldwide, Malaysia Airports Sdn Berhad and India Development Fund. The consortium for Mumbai airport comprises GVK Ind., Airports Company South Africa and The Big Vest Group Ltd.

Meanwhile, the CPI-M has said the UPA government's handing over the Delhi and Mumbai airports for modernisationis is a gross violation of the Common Minimum Programme that said profit making Public Sector Unit's will not be disinvested.

In a statement CPI-M Politburo said handing over of the airports is a mockery of transparency because the signing of agreement has taken place at a time when charges of irregularity are under judicial scrutiny.

The statement added the government has violated the committment given to airport employees and are solely responsible for the consequences of the course that it has adopted. It may be recalled that the Union Cabinet during the NDA regime in September 2003, had decided to privatise the modernisation process for these airports and set up an empowered Group of Ministers, now headed by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

After amending the AAI Act in 2004, it appointed financial and legal consultants and global technical advisors in 2004 and issued Request for Proposals and Transaction Documents in 2005. The financial bids were opened on January 31 this year and the order on selection of successful bidders, GMR and GVK-led consortia, were issued on February 4.

AAI pays Rs 40 cr interim dividend

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 14: Airports Authority of India (AAI) has paid to the Government interim dividend of Rs 40 crore. The AAI Chairman, Dr K Ramalingam, presented the cheque to the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, on Tuesday.

Besides the Chairman, those Board members present at the handing over ceremony were the Member (Finance), Mr V D V Prasad Rao; the Member (Planning), Mr A K Misra; the Member (Operations), Mr P Seth; and the Member (P&A), Mr H S Bains.

The Civil Aviation Secretary, Mr Ajay Prasad, and the Joint Secretary, Mr Sanjay Narayan, were among the officials present from the Civil Aviation Ministry.

The AAI has been consistently making profits since its formation on April 1, 1995. During the half year ended September, 2005, the AAI earned revenue of Rs 1,519 crore and earned profit after tax of Rs 201 crore.

Probe allotment of international routes to Jet: Panel

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: A Parliament panel has demanded a probe by an independent agency for speedy clearances of international routes to Jet Airways. The Committee feels that this was done to enhance the airline's IPO prospects.

Expressing its unhappiness, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture said the Government has given evasive reply on grant of speedy clearances to the airline. The Committee feels that if the Ministry is confident about the legality and transparency of the matter, as it has been attempted to be made out in the reply, there should be no objection against an inquiry by an independent agency.

It said that it was not convinced with the reply furnished by the Ministry of Civil Aviation with regard to criteria adopted in selection of scheduled domestic airlines to be allowed to fly on international routes. It felt that there was an element of arbitrariness in imposing restrictions on airlines in terms of experience of flying and not allowing all the domestic scheduled airlines to fly on international routes.

"By imposing such restrictions, the Ministry of Civil Aviation did not give a fair chance to the other scheduled domestic private airline operating in the country." The Committee was of the view that the Ministry did not carry out any due diligence of the performance record of the existing private sector airlines in terms of fulfilling social obligations by flying to remote and inaccessible areas of the country and utilizing the costly technologies installed at the airports such as ILS CAT-III system.

The Ministry in its reply had stated that its decision was based on two minimum eligibility criteria prescribed for selection of scheduled domestic airlines to be allowed to operate on international routes. These were a minimum fleet strength of 20 aircraft and a minimum experience of five years operations on domestic routes.

This basic policy was framed after Naresh Chandra Committee had submitted its report to the Ministry in December 2003. The Chandra panel had revealed that the country was using only 40 per cent of its bilateral rights.

The Parliamentary panel, however, felt that the steep restrictions imposed by the Ministry were impediments in achieving the basic objectives behind the new policy to mitigate under capacity in the international segment to enhance global connectivity to and from different States in the country.

The Committee recommended that in view of the irreversible nature of the new policy, the Ministry should review its prescribed standards regarding fleet strength, maintenance facilities and safety systems for granting licences to new airlines in the domestic sector, taking into consideration the requirements for the international sector also.

It said such a review would enable the relaxation of the existent stringent restrictions on Indian scheduled airlines for international operations.

The committee also noted that the stringent restrictions have not been able to avoid the denial of flights to Jet Airways to destinations in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, recently told the Lok Sabha that the Government was still awaiting comments from security agencies about the dubious links of a private airline (Jet) with the underworld and which has been barred from flying to the US following complaints.

Without naming the airline, the Minister said in a written reply to a question raised by some MPs that the Government had received a reference from the US seeking certain information about an airline designated by the Government to operate to the US.

"The matter has been referred by the Government for comments of the concerned security agencies," Patel said in his reply to the question whether the US has not allowed some private airlines to operate on Indo-US route on account of dubious underworld links.
To another question, the Minister said Jet Airways tops the list of airlines which owe Rs 2,210.20 lakh to domestic and international airports and is followed by Air Deccan with Rs 1,584.23 lakh and Sahara Airlines with Rs 746.94 lakh.

On the market share of Jet Airways and Indian Airlines, he said it has shown a considerable downfall in year 2005 compared to 2004 as it fell from 43.8 to 39.8 and 37.9 to 31 respectively where as it grew for low cost airlines, including Air Deccan from 4.2 in 2004 to 10.4 per cent.

Indian ranked India's most trusted airline

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 17: The national carrier, Indian, continues to strive for greater excellence. The airline has been ranked as the most trusted airline in the service brands category, for the third year running in the Brand Equity annual survey, published recently in the Economic Times.

What is even more creditable is that in a special box headlined "Cruise Control" and reflecting the airline rankings, Indian is ranked first followed by Air Sahara, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines and Air Deccan, in that order.

To quote from the Economic Times …"Each brand was evaluated on relatedness, perceived popularity, quality connotation, and distinctiveness/ uniqueness of what it stands for, value for money that it offers and repurchase intent. The survey was conducted by The Economic Times collaborated with AC Nielsen ORG - MARG, one of the most respected market research agencies.

Jet Airways sets a new record

NEW DELHI, Feb 17: Jet Airways has set a new record in the history of Indian Civil Aviation by flying 36,406 passengers with a seat factor of 86 per cent on February 15. This is the first time that an airline in India has flown 36,406 passengers from its available capacity of 42,522 seats on its domestic and international sectors.

This achievement can be attributed to the seamless coordination between management, marketing and sales aptly supported by the highly efficient revenue and yield management system of Jet Airways.

India opens skies with Italy, Thailand

NEW DELHI, Feb 16: India and Italy have signed a new air services agreement that modifies the existing pact to allow airlines of both countries to operate at least seven more flights a week in each direction.
The new pact allows for multiple carriers -- including private airlines -- to be designated to fly between the two countries. This will be in addition to current flag carriers Alitalia and Air India.

The two sides - led by India's Civil Aviation Secretary Ajay Prasad and Italy's Director General for Navigation, Merchant Navy and Air Transport Aldo Sansone - also agreed to make Kolkata a new point of call in India for Italian carriers.

Under various combinations, the carriers of the two sides can now fly as many as 24 flights a week between India and Italy. Currently, no Indian carrier serves Italy, while Alitalia flies to Delhi and Mumbai.
Italy had for a long time been seeking India's nod to allow more Italian airlines, such as Blue Panorama, Euroflight and cargo airliner Ocean, to not only fly to India but also to allow them access to a larger number of Indian cities.

Designated Indian carriers can now operate air services to Rome and Milan. The intermediate points of call are Karachi, Kandahar, Jeddah, Bahrain, Kuwait, Tel Aviv, Dhahran, Tehran, Basra, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, Athens, Sophia, Istanbul and Belgrade.

Indian carriers can also fly home from several third country stations via Italy. These stations are Vienna, Geneva, Zurich, Prague, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt or Dusseldorf or Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Shannon, Gander, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Indian carriers can operate without fifth freedom rights between Madrid or Lisbon and one point in Latin America, including South America, Central America and Mexico.

The airlines designated by Italy can operate air services to Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, with intermediate points of call like Istanbul, Athens, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Basra, Tehran, Dhahran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jeddah, Kandahar and Karachi. Italian carriers can also operate via India from Yangon and Bangkok and further on to Saigon, Hong Kong, Manila and Tokyo and Singapore, Jakarta, Darwin, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Italian carriers will not have fifth freedom rights while operating between India and Beijing, Shanghai and one point in Australia or Asia, including China.

The Air Services Agreement with Thailand has been amended to provide for multiple designations of airlines. As per the revised Agreement the number of seats per week will go up to 8606 till the summer of 2006, 9216 from the Summer 2006, 11,046 from Winter 2006, 13,136 from Summer 2007, 14,186 from Winter 2007, 15,486 from Summer 2008, 17,451 from Winter 2008, 18,671 from Summer 2009.
The designated airlines of both the countries shall now be entitled to operate unlimited frequency and capacity with any type of aircraft on their respective specified route schedules.

The designated airlines of Thailand had, before the revised Agreement, the entitlement to operate upto three frequencies/915 seats per week each to/from Guwahati, Gaya and Varanasi and the designated airlines of India had reciprocal entitlements to operate upto 2745 seats per week from 18 stations - Patna, Lucknow, Guwahati, Gaya, Varanasi, Bhubhaneshwar, Khajuraho, Aurangabad, Goa, Jaipur, Port Blair, Cochin, Thuiruvananthapuram, Calicut, Amritsar, Vishakhapatnam, Ahemdabad and Tiruchirapalli to points in Thailand.

As per the new Agreement the designated airlines of both the country shall be entitled to operate unlimited frequency and capacity with any type of aircraft on their respective routes schedule. With the acceptance of unlimited access to the 18 stations, the designated airlines of Thailand will get unlimited access to these stations. The Indian side would also have unlimited access to/from points in Thailand from these 18 stations while also retaining the earlier entitlements of 2745 seats per week.

The beyond 5th Freedom Traffic Rights by the designated airlines of Thailand to Dubai shall be exercised only via Chennai on upto four frequencies/1220 seats per week in each direction. No 5th Freedom Traffic Rights shall be exercised on the services to/from Mumbai, Delhi, Banglaore, Chennai (except Dubai), Guwahati, Gaya, Varanasi and Hyderabad.

The beyond 5th Freedom Traffic Rights by the designated airlines of India to/from Cambodia and Taiwan shall be allowed to be exercised on up to seven frequencies per week per point.

The Indian delegation to Thailand was led by Shri Ajay Prasad, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation while the leader of the Thailand delegation was Mr. Mahidol Chantrangkum, Vice Minister, Minister of Transport, Thailand.



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