New Delhi, Jan. 29: With war clouds looming large over West Asia, Indian Airlines has drawn up contingency plans for flights to the Gulf, including moves to halt flights to Kuwait in case hostilities break out. Other airlines are planning to take longer routes while flying to Europe to skirt the war zone.
Airlines are not talking about it, but they are also considering raising fares if crude prices continue to go up and routes become longer.
The precautionary plans are being put in place as sabre-rattling by both the US and Iraq has reached a crescendo. While US president George W. Bush has implicitly warned of an attack on Iraq, Saddam Hussein, the West Asian nation’s leader, has threatened action against Kuwait where US forces are stationed.
“We feel Kuwait may come into the hostility zone. If it does, we will halt flights to the Emirates. Other flights to the Gulf may be curtailed if we feel security considerations dictate this. We will watch the situation,” an Indian Airlines official said.
The official added that any flight to the Gulf that does not have sufficient load would in any case be suspended as an added precautionary measure. Of the 51 flights to the Gulf from India, six are to Kuwait.
Air-India is already taking a southern route out of India when flying to Europe to avoid flying across Pakistani airspace because of restrictions imposed by Islamabad in a tit-for-tat move a little over a year back.
It will follow the example set by Indian Airlines with regard to operations to the Gulf and also avoid the Iraq-Kuwait sector, civil aviation ministry officials said.
Other global airlines flying to or from India have plans to change their route to avoid the Iraq-Kuwait sector.
“We will circumvent the area,” said Wolfgang Mayrhuber, deputy chairman of Lufthansa AG. The German airline is the largest European carrier flying to India.
This will mean longer flights — with at least two hours added to most European and US destinations. However, airlines as yet do not plan to curtail operations out of India, mainly because most foreign airlines are reporting huge profits on operations to India.
“In fact, we will be asking our government to seek more bilaterals from India,” Mayrhuber said. Sources said Lufthansa wants to add at least six flights to the 23 a week it operates out of India and add Hyderabad to the four ports of call — Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore — allowed to it.
This is not the first time that airlines have been forced to change their flight routes connecting Europe and Asia. The 1991 Gulf War and the conflict in Afghanistan had forced similar re-routings.