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Private airlines to be allowed on some international routes

By Vinay Kumar

NEW DELHI, FEB. 2. Private domestic carriers can now hope to fly to foreign destinations in the SAARC region and South-East Asian sector barring the Gulf sector if the Union Cabinet approves the new Civil Aviation policy on February 4.

The pie in the "open skies" on international routes to these sectors minus the Gulf region is estimated to be worth nearly Rs. 1,400 crores annually as both Indian Airlines and Air India are unable to utilise their rights to the tune of about Rs. 700 crores each due to lack of airplanes. It is likely that only those domestic carriers who have put in at least two years of operations would be allowed to fly abroad and the criteria for "equitable" distribution of routes would be the Available Seats Kilometres (ASKMs).

In this scenario, the two major private domestic carriers — Jet Airways and Air Sahara — would qualify and grab the offer that forms part of the new civil aviation policy that is being placed in parts before the Cabinet for its approval. Officials said that the criteria of two years of operation for private domestic carriers was being applied to prevent a new domestic operator from seeking international routes immediately.

Under the criteria of ASKMs, Jet Airways is likely to emerge as the player with a clear edge over its rival. As fleet acquisition for both Indian Airlines and Air India is ruled out in near future in the face of coming Lok Sabha elections and leasing of aircraft looking like a distant possibility, the two State-owned carriers will be left to fend for themselves.

"Several issues relating to airlines, connectivity and affordability are likely to be considered by the Cabinet on February 4. So far as the issue of allowing 49 per cent of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is concerned, it will require deliberations with other ministries only then can we consider it,'' the Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, told reporters this evening. He was replying to queries after inaugurating a facilitation counter for tourists at Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Aviation industry sources say that it would be only "partial" implementation of the Naresh Chandra Committee that submitted its report to the Civil Aviation Ministry on December 8, seeking to chart out a roadmap for the civil aviation sector in the country.

The Cabinet is also likely to give its nod for giving extension to the existing commercial agreements for another three years. The government's "open skies" policy is also likely to continue till March 2007. Interestingly, both the open skies and the commercial agreements are likely to run coterminus.

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