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Flight flurry on airport radar
- More carriers join war of the skies

The Calcutta sky is set to soar, with private and foreign airlines making a beeline for the city airport. And the rush is no flight of fancy.

Among those starting operations is Qatar Airways and private domestic carriers like Spice Jet, Go Air and Kingfisher Airlines. Existing players like Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airline will also be augmenting their services.

UB Group's Kingfisher Airlines has tied up with national carrier Indian Airlines, because of its infrastructure and the Northeast network. The domestic carrier has inked a Rs 120-crore-a-year deal with the Vijay Mallya-owned airline for ground handling, engineering and maintenance support. IA will also run Kingfisher's quota on the non-profitable routes, including the Northeast.

'This has also encouraged some other private airlines to sign similar agreements with us. All airlines operating on the domestic sector have to deploy part of their capacity to connect non-profitable sectors mainly in the Northeast, Leh, Port Blair, Lakshadweep and Daman and Diu, termed as category II routes,' said an IA spokesperson.

From Kingfisher's point of view, 'it is a win-win situation for both', said a spokesperson. 'In times of crisis, the two airlines will cooperate with each other in every sphere.'

Qatar Airways will start off by early 2006 with four flights to Doha, and Go Air will kick off operations with Calcutta-Mumbai flights by October-end. Tiger Airways, a low-cost subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, too, will land here soon.

'While we are bolstering our own capacity in Calcutta, they (Tiger) will probably fly thrice a week from the city,' said Bharat Mahadevan, manager (east), Singapore Airlines.

Singapore Airlines is planning to offer Calcuttans economic packages to Australia, New Zealand and Bali, Indonesia, 'once the Puja peak season ends'. Added Mahadevan: 'Our target is to project destinations beyond Singapore. Since the Indonesian government lifted visa restrictions, Bali has suddenly become a very viable holiday and business destination.'

Getting visas, too, is set to become easier, with the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) opening a visa service centre for Singapore and Malaysia. 'Normally, visas for these two countries takes four working day to complete. Now, it will be done in two days. Also, the traveller can find out the status of the visa by dropping into our office,' said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east), TAFI. 'Visa fees will also be reduced to Rs 150 from Rs 300.'

Increasing flight frequency will be Thai Airways. Plans are to start daily flights from Calcutta by November. 'The traffic has been very good and we have almost 80 per cent occupancy not just to Thailand, but beyond Bangkok to European destinations, China, Australia and Korea,' said S.C. Kapoor, district sales manager (Calcutta), Thai Airways.

Malaysia Airline is planning to consolidate its foothold in Calcutta. 'We are working on attractive discounts for holidays in Malaysia, in coordination with Tourism Malaysia,' said a spokesperson.

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