Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, May 18, 2002
PM writes to Blair on slots for AI at Heathrow
NEW DELHI, May 17
THE Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has written to his British counterpart, Mr Tony Blair, on the issue of Air India getting proper slots at the Heathrow airport, the Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, said here on Friday.
Addressing the national convention on `Aviation and tourism: Opportunities and challenges,' the Minister said that while British Airways and Virgin Atlantic were keen to operate more flights, they were not willing to help AI get more slots at Heathrow.
The convention had been organised by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).
AI has been keen to increase the number of flights it operates to London but its efforts have been hampered for a long time as it has found it difficult to get proper landing slots at the Heathrow airport.
While stating that the Indian Government was keen to follow an open sky policy, Mr Hussain said that the Ministry of Civil Aviation was open to sign more air services bilateral agreements with different Governments to solve the problem of availability of air seats from and to India.
However, Mr Hussain felt that it would be wrong to blame the policies of the Indian Government for the pullout of several international airlines from India. ``International airlines have pulled out of India due to economic and other reasons. After all, the Indian Government cannot be expected to provide budgetary support to international carriers to operate air services to and from India,'' the Minister said.
While 18 international airlines, including Lufthansa and KLM, had added more flights, 17 airlines, including United Airlines and the Australian airline, Qantas, had withdrawn services from India, Mr Hussain said.
The Minister also said that AI would soon reintroduce the India-Frankfurt-Chicago flight while Indian Airlines would launch a new flight on the Delhi-Bodh Gaya-Bangkok sector.
Furthermore, the Airports Authority of India had completed a survey for having an airport in Ajmer and the issue would be referred to the Union Cabinet soon for approval, Mr Hussain said.
On the issue of disinvestment of AI and IA, the Minister said that was on hold for the moment.
``Till such time the disinvestment process is started again, all steps are being taken to strengthen the two state-owned airlines,'' Mr Hussain said.
Further, towards making domestic travel more affordable, the Minister said that he had written to the Chief Ministers asking them to reduce the sales tax on aviation turbine fuel.
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