New Delhi, Feb. 11: Fearing an outbreak of war in Iraq, the Centre has asked national carriers Indian Airlines and Air-India to be ready to evacuate Indians from Kuwait at short notice.
The two airlines will be using up to seven to eight aircraft to evacuate an estimated 50,000 Indians living in Kuwait. Indian Airlines is lining up two Airbus 300s and three Airbus 320s while Air-India will be ready with a Boeing 747-combi (passenger-cum-cargo plane) and a B747-400.
About 3,500 Indians will be brought back each day and the operation completed within a fortnight. The flights will take off from Dammam for Mumbai and Kerala.
Both airlines are likely to cancel some flights if and when they divert planes for the evacuation. The bill is expected to be picked up by the ministry of external affairs and later realised from those evacuated.
Indian Airlines has also drawn up contingency plans for flights to the Gulf, including moves to halt all its normal flights to Kuwait in case hostilities break out and curtail some flights to the region that it feels are not necessary.
The plans are being put in place as sabre-rattling by the US and Iraq has reached a crescendo. While the American President has warned of an attack on Iraq, Saddam Hussein has threatened action against Kuwait, where the US forces are stationed.
Air-India is already taking a southerly route out of India when flying to Europe to avoid Pakistani airspace because of tit-for-tat restrictions imposed a little over a year ago. It will also follow the example set by Indian Airlines on operations to the Gulf and avoid the Iraq-Kuwait sector, civil aviation ministry officials said.
Other global airlines flying to or from India plan to take longer routes, giving the war zone a miss. At least two hours will be added to most European and American destinations. As yet, the airlines do not plan to curtail flights out of the country. Most foreign airlines are reporting huge profits on operations to India.
This is not the first time that airlines have been forced to change routes between Europe and Asia. The Gulf war in 1991 and the recent war in Afghanistan had forced similar re-routings.
The longer routes mean more costs. With oil prices already going up and expected to rise further, a price hike is not being ruled out by senior airline executives though none is willing to discuss it officially yet.