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Gaya opens skies for tourism

Patna, Dec. 3: The Union civil aviation ministry has decided to adopt an “open sky policy” for foreign airlines willing to land at the newly-opened Gaya international airport.

The open-sky policy would allow foreign airlines to operate in the country without bilateral agreements. Civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain said here today the policy will be open to all foreign airlines now servicing routes elsewhere in India.

“For Gaya airport, we have adopted an open-sky policy for the foreign flights which already go to other Indian cities, especially Delhi,” he said.

The move aims to boost the number of foreign flights so that more Buddhist tourists from Southeast Asia can visit Bodhgaya.

The airport began operations on November 12 when a Sri Lankan Airways flight touched down with the first batch of Buddhist tourists in a one-stop flight from that country.

According to Hussain, the Gaya-Kolkata-Bangkok flight would take off on December 18. In January, a Thai delegation led by their queen will visit Bodhgaya.

The Civil aviation and Tourism ministries are now working together to improve ties with Thailand. The move is in keeping with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s positive talks with that country during his November visit.

With more airlines from Southeast Asian countries showing an interest to fly to Bodhgaya, the prospect of “religious tourism” in Bihar has brightened. “We have received positive response from flight operators in North Korea and Japan,’’ Hussain said. “A bilateral agreement with North Korea will soon be signed. Once these take off, the international flight traffic would increase and the number of foreign tourists would shoot up.”

Other countries on the Civil aviation list are Myanmar, South Korea, and Nepal.

Hussain took the opportunity to say that an estimated 1,561 Haj pilgrims from Bihar would set off from the Gaya airport in January-February. “It was supposed to fly from Patna airport,” Hussain said, “but a lack of proper runway has prompted the shift to Gaya.”

The government, he said, has no plans to curtail Haj pilgrims’ flight subsidy. “Like in other years, the pilgrims will pay Rs 12,000 a ticket for the journey. The government now spends Rs 160 crore in subsidies.”

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