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SIA bonanza for Calcutta

New Delhi, Nov. 25: Singapore International Airlines is still keen on the Indian market despite pulling out of the race for Air-India last year and is eyeing an entry into ground services at Indian airports, which are currently being corporatised.

The airline will also hike capacity on its Calcutta route by nearly 50 per cent and to Mumbai and Delhi by about 40 to 20 per cent, respectively, besides starting a three-flights-a-week operation to Bangalore and charter flights to Jaipur.

The airlines has also not given up its earlier interest in buying up potentially rich Asian airlines, Rick Clemens, senior vice-president, said here today. “We have always seen India as a market with enormous potential.... Nothing has changed” in that perception, he said.

Clemens added that SIA still felt that growth for the airline had to be mainly through acquisitions and mergers. “We don’t prowl around for airlines to take over. But if opportunity comes our way, we will take it,” he said. The SIA executive, however, refused to be drawn into any comments on interest in Air-India.

SIA pulled out of the race for Air-India in the aftermath of September 11, when most airlines were tightening their belts. Soon afterwards, the government decided to stay disinvestment in two state-run airlines — Air-India and Indian Airlines — as the aviation market was in doldrums.

The Indian government has not yet made up its mind on selling stake in Air-India and, in the words of disinvestment ministry officials, “watching the global aviation scenario to see whether there is sufficient improvement in the marketplace to attract significant bidders”.

The SIA executive said the airline, which already has a joint venture with the Taj group for air catering services, was now interested in entering the fast opening-up field of ground services at Indian airports, which were being corporatised. Clemens said the airline was particularly interested in apron and cargo handling services here.

Clemens added that SIA, which currently operates 180-seater A-310s thrice a week, offering 540 seats weekly to Calcutta, will upgrade these with Boeing 777-200s which have 288 seats, offering 864 seats. Similarly, it will replace 777-200s flying on the Singapore-Delhi route with 777-300s, which offer an extra 44 seats. The airline also plans to add three more flights on the Mumbai route.

It is also in talks with Air-India to start a thrice-weekly service to Bangalore, allowed under a current bilateral subject to a commercial agreement with the Indian carrier.

SIA currently flies out of India with load factors in excess of 80 per cent and is consequently keen to expand services in this “lucrative market”. It is also trying to position itself as a gateway for Indians travelling to the Far East, Australia and to the US East Coast, which, it hopes, will give it spin off benefits.

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