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Air India may join `One World'; more slots in London likely

Ashwini Phadnis

NEW DELHI, Sept. 6

THE British Airways CEO came calling. And though the meeting is being described as a "courtesy call", it could provide a window of opportunity to the much-beleaguered Air India (AI).

For one, the Maharaja could finally go truly international by joining the eight-airline global alliance, `One World'.

Besides, the possibility of getting more landing slots in London, which is being eagerly awaited, could become a reality, rather than a distant dream, sometime next year.

The British Airways, Chief Executive Officer, Mr Rod Eddington, is believed to have discussed these issues, among others, at a meeting with the Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr Syed Shahnawaz Hussein, here on Friday.

"The BA CEO informed the Minister that the British Government is expected to take a decision on whether construction of a third runway (at Heathrow) will be allowed or not by next year. If that proposal is approved, then the number of slots available will increase. Besides, there is also the possibility of following a mixed approach on the existing two runways at Heathrow, which allows simultaneous take-offs and landings. If this method is followed, then the availability of slots will go up by around 20 per cent," official sources told Business Line.

The construction of the third runway at Heathrow is stuck, as several issues like noise pollution, among others, have to be sorted out before the British Government can take a firm decision.

However, officials were categorical that the issue of bilateral air services were not discussed at the meeting.

"Like several other airlines, BA too, will be keen to operate more flights during the peak season. But the issue of bilateral air services was not broached during the meeting," sources said.

During the meeting, the possibility of AI joining the `One World' global airlines alliance, of which BA is a member, was also discussed. Apart from BA, American Airlines, the Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, and the Australian Qantas airlines are part of the alliance, which offers connections to 550 airports around the world.

Senior AI officials also said that they met Mr Eddington but noted that it was merely a "courtesy call". When contacted, senior BA officials said that there was no "fixed agenda" for the CEO's visit.

Apart from meeting the Minister for Civil Aviation and top officials of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the BA CEO also broke bread with the captains of industry at an exclusive luncheon meeting organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

"The CEO just spoke about increasing visibility in the country and on investment opportunity," sources said. Among those on hand to listen to Mr Eddington were the NIIT Chairman, Mr R.S. Pawar, head of Lazard India, Mr Ashish Guha and Mr C.K. Birla of Hindustan Motors.

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