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Thrice-a-week SIA service to Calcutta

New Delhi, Dec. 2: Singapore International Airlines (SIA) plans to increase frequencies to Calcutta and Bangalore, fly larger-capacity Boeings to Mumbai and Chennai, besides studying the possibility of flying to other Indian destinations.

An open-skies pact with Asean announced recently allows SIA to fly daily to all metro cities and to eight other tourist destinations. The City State’s airline is also eyeing an entry into ground services at Indian airports currently being corporatised.

The airline was recently embroiled in a controversy over its bid to start a joint venture engineering and maintenance company in collaboration with Indian Airlines, India’s nationalised domestic carrier, with labour unions protesting the move. Both sides have since then clarified that they “are currently studying the possibility of a joint venture” and nothing has been finalised as yet.

SIA will be raising capacity on its Calcutta route by nearly 50 per cent, initially temporarily for the peak winter season but later on a permanent footing, by making its service thrice a week.

It also plans to fly the larger B747 series aircraft instead of Boeing 777 to Mumbai and Chennai, increasing seat capacity by 12 and 18 per cent respectively.

“We have always seen India as a market with enormous potential...we are studying other points of operations,” Rick Clements, senior vice-president of SIA, said here today.

The airline had earlier been keen on buying a controlling stake in Air-India but had pulled out of the race in the aftermath of September 11 terror attacks in US skies when most airlines were tightening their belt. Soon afterwards, the government decided to stay divestment in the two state run airlines — Air India and Indian Airlines — as the aviation market was in doldrums.

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

IA, 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 airports which were soon being corporatised. SIA sources say the airline was interested in apron and cargo handling services here.

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. It hopes these will bring spin-off benefits.

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