The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Russian row for sky room

New Delhi, May 15: From Russia, but not with love.

India has got sucked into two commercial “air wars” with Russia and Malaysia over flying rights.

The one with the Russian government ended with the Kremlin blinking, but the spat with the Malaysians was not resolved till late tonight.

India had earlier in the day told the Russians that it was slamming the air doors on Aeroflot in a tit-for-tat response to a Moscow decision to ban Jet Air and Air-India Express from over-flying Russian air space into Europe from June 15.

If the fight with the Cold War-era ally had dragged on, India would have had to re-route its flights through a southern route via the Gulf, which would have resulted in an hour’s extra flying time to Europe.

The decision could also have affected the flight time limitation of the cockpit and cabin crew, which governs their duty hours.

However, last-minute negotiations saw the Russians, who fly seven times a week to Delhi and four times to Mumbai, promising not to stop any Indian overflights. India, too, revoked its earlier orders and allowed Aeroflot to fly unhindered.

Civil aviation officials said the Russians had taken the tough stand in a bid to get India to agree to their demands for more flying rights into the country. India has become a lucrative destination for Aeroflot with 70 per cent of its seats on any flight to or from the country usually sold out at any point of time.

“Aeroflot wants to increase flights to 12 to Delhi and 7 to Mumbai. It also wants to fly to other Indian cities,” a source said. India is ready to allow more flights but would not do so under pressure.

The stand-off with Malaysia, however, showed no signs of a thaw.

Malaysian Airlines have objected to Air Sahara and Air-India Express being given rights to fly to Kuala Lumpur, though India can launch new flights to that country under aviation pacts it has signed. Malaysia Airlines apparently fears that the new carriers would reduce its yield from the route.

India has threatened to stop Malaysia Airlines flights, if it is not allowed to expand services. Malaysia Airlines now flies 27 times a week to Indian cities. Indian Airlines flies 14 times a week and Jet flies seven times a week.

Both sides know that if the threats are carried out, the huge outflow of tourists from India would be affected. Malaysians rate Indians among the highest spending tourists.

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