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Pak out of private flight path

New Delhi, Dec. 10: India plans to allow domestic private airlines to fly to South Asian destinations, except Pakistan, as a prelude to allowing them to go international.

The proposal is expected to be part of a feelgood package Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will offer at the Saarc summit to be held in Islamabad in less than a month.

If the civil aviation ministry had its way, Pakistan would have been included, too. Intelligence agencies put paid to its proposal for open skies over all of South Asia.

Any move by India to open up the South Asian skies has to be reciprocal and intelligence agencies have reservations about a large influx of Pakistani passengers such an arrangement could lead to.

Sources said security agencies felt that the recent decision to let Pakistan restart flights between Delhi-Karachi (three times a week), Mumbai-Karachi (five times a week) and Delhi-Lahore (four times a week) are enough for the time being.

“Sri Lanka and Nepal are willing to allow this move as they see it as a boost to their bid to climb back on the global tourism map. We have been trying to gauge Bangladesh’s response and will make an offer to them, too,” an official said.

Officials said private airlines have already been sounded on the move and Sahara has indicated it is keen on flying to Colombo and Kathmandu. Jet Airways has already announced flights to Colombo but will make up its mind about Nepal once the government offer is finalised.

Several private airlines from Nepal and Bangladesh have also shown interest in flying to India.

The Naresh Chandra committee on civil aviation, which on Monday gave its report on new policy initiatives, had sought to allow private airlines to go international by permitting them to bid for unused service slots — that are negotiated between governments on a reciprocal basis — lying with national carriers Indian Airlines and Air-India.

Some 60 per cent of the routes awarded to international carrier Air-India under bilateral pacts are not being used.

Sahara chief executive U.K. Bose and Jet’s chairman Naresh Goel have been writing to and meeting top government officials, including civil aviation minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, to make a strong pitch for global flying rights at best or at least to South Asian and Gulf destinations.

The two private airlines, which are increasingly buying new-generation Boeing or Airbus aircraft, see this as a chance to operate in a market where demand outstrips supply and to augment earnings. While Jet has 42 aircraft, Sahara has 16, which it wants to raise to 24 by December. Indian Airlines has 58 planes.

The other attraction is hard currency income combined with lower fuel cost. Aviation fuel is nearly 20-25 per cent cheaper outside India.

At a meeting tonight, the cabinet approved daily services to Asean countries from the four metro cities in India and vice versa, adds PTI.

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