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Qatar Airways Chief Slams India Air Traffic Restrictions

Akbar Al Baker says authorities should not lose the opportunity to develop India's aviation and tourism markets

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Disappointed at India's decision to auction air-traffic rights, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker has said it was against the country's interest to "restrict" foreign carriers from operating freely in its air space.

"It is not in the interest of India to restrict foreign airlines from operating freely in the Indian air space," he said at a press conference held at the Singapore Airshow 2016 on Monday.

Al Baker said he was very disappointed at India's decision to auction air traffic rights called bilaterals.

"I am very disappointed to note that the aviation policy in India... the Indian authority wants to auction traffic rights into India," he said.

The chief executive of the Doha-based premier Gulf airline stressed that the air traffic rights were a sovereign property and should not be auctioned, pointing out the risks in auctioning such rights, for it could be given to an entity in which India might not have a strategic interest.

In a submission to the government, the International Air Transport Association has earlier said such a policy could lead to distortions among carriers and lead to higher fares.

Al Baker said foreign airlines should be given freedom to operate in India as it will boost the country's trade and tourism and also generate millions of jobs for Indians.

Opening the tourism sector would create millions of jobs for Indians, he said. "India has one of the highest number of tourism spots anywhere in the world... full of history."

He called on authorities not to lose the opportunity to develop India's aviation and tourism markets, saying there is a huge demand from tourists and the Indian diaspora to have a seamless travel to India.

Earlier, the Qatar flag carrier had evinced interest in picking up stake in budget carrier IndiGo airlines but Al Baker in December had said it has "no intention" to invest in any Indian airline.

Al Baker highlighted the business growth of Qatar Airways, saying the airline recorded a compounded average growth rate of about 30 per cent for nearly two decades.

He estimates the carrier's passenger traffic should reach 30 million by the end of the current fiscal year in March, up from 24.3 million passengers a year ago. It grew from 400,000 passengers when it began operating at full scale in 1996.

Qatar Airways currently operates from 13 Indian cities.