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Govt Open To Enhance Bilaterals With Gulf: Aviation Minister

While Gulf airlines have been clamouring for more seats, India has been reluctant to do so as domestic airlines have lost business to their Gulf rivals

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Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju on Tuesday said the Indian government is ready to open negotiations with the Gulf nations in general and Dubai in particular to enhance the bilateral air traffic rights between the two markets.

"Since the past two years there has been a tremendous improvement in the utilisation levels of the bilaterals by our airlines with the Gulf nations. While it is around 80 per cent for the region as a whole, with Dubai it is over 90 per cent now. And with the limits being reached, we are ready to open negotiations with them again. I think we should begin with Dubai shortly," he told a select group of reporters in Mumbai.

But Raju was quick to add that the negotiations will not be one-sided, as it has been in the past, but will clearly be mutually beneficial.

"As the aviation minister, my job is to secure our national interests and not someone else's. Though a lot of bad things have happened in the past, I cannot set the clock back. But going forward, I will secure our interests first," he said when asked why not let the market and capacity determine it as the ultimate beneficiaries will be the consumers.

In the previous negotiations, none of the Gulf nations gave India any benefit at the bilateral talks, but that will not happen again, he said when pointed out that higher seats per week will bring down the prices of tickets and benefit the passengers.

However, the minister did not elaborate on what are "our losses".

Between India and the Gulf, around 4.2 lakh seats are available every week with Dubai leading the chart with 66,504 seats each per week followed by Abu Dhabi with 50,000 seats each plus 2 per cent additional.

Under the bilaterals, the quota for seats and services are equal for the airlines of the two countries concerned.

With Qatar it is 24,292 seats, Oman 21,147 seats, Sharjah has 17,841 seats, Bahrain (11,500), Kuwait (12,000) plus 2 per cent of additional seats each for all. With Saudi Arabia it is 20,000 seats plus 2 per cent additional and an open skies with Dammam, according to official data.

While Gulf airlines have been clamouring for more seats, the government has been reluctant to do so as domestic airlines have been big losers compared to their Gulf counterparts.

For Etihad and Emirates, India is their largest market, while for Jet with its tie-up with Etihad the region should be the largest.

Domestic airlines like the national carrier Air India, private players like Jet Airways, Indigo and SpiceJet operate to the Gulf markets now.


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