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Delighted twins flap their wings

New Delhi, Dec. 8: The two private scheduled airlines — Air Sahara and Jet — which were lobbying hard to get the BJP government to agree to open up unused international bilaterals by allowing them to bid for them are in celebration mode.

“We would love to fly to the UK or other European destinations whenever the government agrees with the recommendations,” said U. K. Bose, chairman of Air Sahara.

Opening up the routes to bidding by the two private airlines and the other national carrier, Indian Airlines, is an option which has been outlined by the high-powered committee headed by former ambassador to the US Naresh Chandra, which 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 press their case in the last few months.

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 cash-strapped government is that it could well earn huge revenues through this.

Airlines in this country are increasingly buying new generation Boeing 737s or Airbus aircraft which have the capability of long distance travel. They 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 raise to 24 by December.

According to estimates by Boeing Corporation, India will need 380 passenger aircraft over next two decades, costing airlines and companies in the country around $25 billion.

Most flights to destinations in Europe, Gulf or Southeast 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 cheaper by nearly 20 to 25 per cent outside India.

“We can expect investment flows to go up sharply in the aviation sector once this pragmatic policy takes off,” said Bose.

A forecast by National Council of Applied Economic Research says that by 2005, Indian airports are estimated to handle 60 million international passengers; 1.2 million tonnes of international cargo; and 300,000 tonnes of domestic cargo.

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