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Launch of air service to Colombo may trigger price war

By T.S. Shankar

CHENNAI, MARCH 22. Two major domestic carriers are going regional — Air Sahara launched its inaugural flight to Colombo tonight and Jet Airways is set to take off to the island tomorrow. Both offer daily services. This first international route in the South Asian sector to be opened up for competition is poised to trigger a price war. Against the present International Air Transport Association-approved return fare of Rs. 8,285, a lower promotional package offer, ranging between Rs.7,460 and Rs.6,360, will be on offer, according to the airlines.

The two airlines are looking beyond Colombo too. "We have already approached the Union Civil Aviation Ministry and the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation, apex regulatory body, for operating rights to fly to Kathmandu, Bangladesh and Maldives," Uttam Kumar Bose, Chief Executive Officer, Air Sahara, a New Delhi-based private carrier, told The Hindu here tonight. From April 8, Air Sahara would be introducing daily flights to Colombo from Bangalore.

"We are working out modalities to extend the Colombo flight to Maldives to attract more in-bound traffic, coming out with twinning of destinations," the CEO said.

Pointing out that the airline was keen on operating to Southeast Asian points and also to European destinations in the long-run, Mr.Bose said it was tying up with a Southeast Asian airline and a European carrier to fly tourists taking the Chennai-Colombo flight to other international destinations at an affordable cost. Aviation sources said Singapore already offered an initial, very attractive handling charge waiver package for private airlines from India, as its airline fully utilised its quota of flights to metropolitan cities here.

With Indian Airlines operating daily services on the Chennai-Colombo-Chennai sector and the present dominant player, SriLankan Airways, having 15 flights a week, this sudden increase in services, according to travel trade sources, needs to be watched. "Though the sector could witness a fare war till March end, the situation could completely change from April 1, as a 5 per cent hike in international fares covering global routes are expected to be implemented," a SriLankan Airways official said. His airline was planning to augment its seat capacity, going in for larger aircraft to Chennai.

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