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Jet vs Jet: US red tape ahead

Washington/New Delhi, June 4: Jet Airways may have to put off plans to spread its wings over American skies at least until September, according to experts dealing with US aviation disputes here.

Its plans to start flights on the Mumbai-Brussels-Newark route from June 23 are in jeopardy following a determined bid by a rival American namesake, Jet Airways Inc., to block the flights.

Four US state agencies are now siezed of the matter: the Department of Transportation (DoT), the Department of Homeland Security, the US Patent and Trademark Office and the Port Authority of Newark and New Jersey.

American bureaucracy is no better than its Indian counterpart at the best of times and those familiar with the red tape here say it may well be September before a decision is taken on a trademark dispute between the Indian airline and the American outfit.

Since a complaint to DoT by the American company alleging that Jet Airways (India) Ltd had links with al Qaida hit the headlines this week, it has come to light that a dispute has been going on between the Indian airline and its US challenger for a year and a half now.

Records at the US Patent and Trademark Office show that the Indian airline applied in February 2004 for registering its familiar trademark: “Jet Airways: the Joy of Flying”.

It was denied the trademark by US authorities, but it reapplied in August last year. In February this year, the Indian airline filed a petition before the US Patent and Trademark Office seeking termination of the trademark of Jet Airways Inc., the American company.

It is that petition which appears to have persuaded the US outfit to resort to its desperate plea to DoT to block incoming flights by the Indian carrier by creating the bogey of terrorism.

The American company’s complaint to DoT cautions that if Jet Airways is allowed to fly from India to the US, “then we will once again have the al Qaida flying and controlling aircraft over American cities... and this time the officials who issue these permits will be held accountable for knowingly giving these aircraft the entry”.

The DoT’s spokesman has been evasive about the timetable for starting Jet’s Mumbai-Brussels-Newark flights, merely saying that the department is reviewing the whole matter and promising a quick decision.

But the reference of the terrorism allegation to the Department of Homeland Security is not a good augury for Jet Airways.

This department, created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, is a monument to bureaucratic confusion and it usually takes the easy way out of threat situations by assuming that even imagined threats are real.

If experience is any guide, it may, therefore, be months before Jet Airways is cleared of allegations of terrorist links, if at all.

A Jet official in New Delhi termed the allegations “scurrilous” and said the airline would file a defamation suit against the US firm. Another official smelt the hand of “domestic rivals”.

He added that Jet’s aircraft acquisitions and operations have been financed by banks including the Export-Import Bank of the US, the International Finance Corporation and Indian commercial banks.

Lobbyists in Washington handling airline business surmised that if political pressure from New Delhi can be applied on Washington, Jet may be allowed to start its US flights to Newark as planned.

But New Delhi does not have that kind of clout with the Bush administration, unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, which was allowed to evacuate Saudi nationals, including several members of the bin Laden family, from the US even as all air traffic over American skies was closed immediately after September 11, 2001.

An American company by the name Jet Airways Inc. has been in existence since 1998 as a nationwide transportation management company, “formed to provide international airlines a means of transporting cargo beyond their gateway ports to over 170 inland cities throughout the US and Canada”.

It was founded by two women, Tammy Zwicki and Monika Lutz, who claim to have three decades of industry experience.

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