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Monday, May 27, 2002

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Air service talks with UK, Singapore in June

Ashwini Phadnis

NEW DELHI, May 26

INDIA is to hold bilateral air services talks with Singapore and the United Kingdom (UK) in June this year.

Official sources told Business Line that while the two-day talks with Singapore are to be held on June 6-7 in Singapore, the dates and venue for the talks with Britain have still not been firmed up.

"Talks with the UK are to be held in late June. However, it is difficult to give a specific date as the dates which were suggested earlier were not acceptable to both the sides," the officials said. Earlier, the talks were fixed for June 17-18 and were later shifted to June 20-12.

Further, attempts were being made to see whether the bilateral air services talks with Malaysia also couldkan be held at the same time as those with the Singapore authorities, the officials said.

While the agenda for the talks are being firmed up, the sources said it was likely that Singapore may seek Bangalore as a new destination in India.

In April this year, the General Manager (South Asia), British Airways, Mr Alan F. Briggs, said the airline would like to see more flights into Chennai and could do with more frequency into Delhi and Mumbai. Besides, among the new destinations that the airline would be interested in operating to include Bangalore and Hyderabad, he had said.

However, the officials complained that the bilateral air services talks with the UK tend to be "one-sided" due to the rigid posture of the British airlines.

"The airlines of the UK are keen to come to India. But when we ask them to help the airlines of India get better slots in London, they turn around and tell us that this is something dealt with by another body. However, this is difficult to believe as British Airways and Virgin, the two airlines operating to India from the UK, own more than 40 per cent of the slots at London's Heathrow airport," the sources said.

To sort out the problem of proper slots for AI at London Heathrow airport, the Indian Prime Minister, Mr A.B. Vajpayee, had written to his British counterpart, Mr Tony Blair. The officials, however, said they were unaware if any reply had been received as yet.

Since the beginning of the year, India has successfully concluded bilateral air services agreements with Jordan, Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

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