The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Idle Air-India routes in demand

New Delhi, Aug. 27: The two private scheduled airlines — Air Sahara and Jet — are lobbying hard to get the BJP-led central government to agree to open up unused international bilaterals by allowing existing airlines to bid for them.

“We would love to fly to the UK or other European destinations or even to the Gulf,” said U. K. Bose, chairman of Air Sahara who today announced induction of two new Boeing 737-700s and two Bombardier regional jets as well as plans to bring in four more of each type of plane by December.

Opening up the routes to bidding by the two private airlines and the other national carrier, Indian Airlines, is an option that is likely to be looked at by a high-powered committee headed by former ambassador to the US, Naresh Chandra, say top civil aviation sources. The committee has been set up to look into civil aviation issues.

Bose and Jet’s Naresh Goel have been writing and meeting top government officials, including the civil aviation minister, to plead their case.

Some 60 per cent of the routes awarded to state-run international carrier, Air-India under bilateral aviation pacts with countries across the globe are currently not being used.

What makes the move attractive for the government is that it could well earn huge revenues through this.

While airlines in this country who are increasingly buying new generation Boeing 737s or Airbus aircraft which have the capability of long distance travel see this as a chance to operate in a market where demand far outstrips supply.

While Jet has 42 aircraft, Indian Airlines has some 58 planes and Sahara has 16 which it wants to hike up to 24 by December.

Most flights to destinations in Europe, Gulf or south-east Asia report over 80 per cent booking while offloading is a common complaint on certain routes like London.

The other attraction is that airlines could earn in hard currency while spending less on fuel costs. Aviation fuel is nearly 20-25 per cent cheaper outside India.

The need to add flights has already forced Air-India and the German carrier, Lufthansa, to agree on a code sharing pact that will see Lufthansa using Air-India’s unused bilaterals to improve connectivity from the southern cities of Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kochi to Europe and the US.

The two airlines signed a memorandum of understanding on code-sharing here last evening.

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