New Delhi: Passengers from Tier-II cities would no longer have to change planes at a metro, if Jet Airways gets the government nod for its plans to mount code-share flights with Gulf carrier Etihad from 23 Indian cities by 2016.
According to the plans submitted to the Civil Aviation Ministry, the Naresh Goyal-owned carrier is understood to have sought to connect to 23 cities with Abu Dhabi in the long and medium terms, requiring over 41,000 seats per week over the next three years.
The current bilateral agreement with Abu Dhabi allows Indian carriers to operate merely 13,300 seats each week. Given the growing needs, Jet suggested that the existing capacity entitlements of Indian carriers under the bilateral agreement be expanded by over 40,000 seats and urged the government to expand the India-Abu Dhabi bilaterals by almost 54,000 seats each week.
Sources said Jet's plans, if implemented, would finally lead a passenger from cities like Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Chandigarh or Coimbatore to directly fly to the Abu Dhabi gateway instead of metros like Delhi or Mumbai, and changeover for flights to other destinations beyond Gulf.
Apart from neighbouring Gulf nations, the destinations beyond Abu Dhabi would include Cairo, Beirut, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Najaf and Baghdad (Iraq) and cities in Iran, along with North America and Europe. These operations are akin to the one Jet is already operating through Brussels.
"Jet Airways has a network strategy and a fleet induction plan to support this growth. The expansion is intended to provide wider consumer choice by connecting 23 cities to the international market," airline officials said.
These flights from Tier-II cities would be based on the unlimited Fifth and Sixth Freedom rights, currently available to all Indian carriers operating to the Gulf nations, the officials said, adding that other Indian carriers also could follow suit and take advantage of these rights.
Fifth Freedom allows an airline to fly between two foreign countries when the flight originates or ends in one's own country, while Sixth Freedom implies the right to fly from a foreign country to another while stopping in one's own country to pick up passengers.
An example for Fifth Freedom could be Singapore-Bangkok-Kolkata flight for Air India and for Sixth Freedom, an Air India flight on the Dhaka-Kolkata-London route. They said the plan was in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Ministry's efforts to open up air services in Tier-II and Tier-III cities to cater to the largely untapped traffic.
Airport officials said such a move would encourage speedy construction of aviation infrastructure in these cities, with the growth in demand for air services. Giving figures, these officials said the percentage ratio of currently operated flights to population was just nil in Haryana and very low in many of the states. The percentage was only 0.5 per cent in Punjab and 0.9 per cent in Chhattisgarh. In Bihar, it was one per cent, 1.2 per cent in Odisha and 1.9 per cent each in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the official figures showed.
The Jet officials said their deal for Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad to pick up 24 per cent equity was an issue that was not connected with this expansion plan. "We have proposed this plan (to operate through the Abu Dhabi gateway) in line with our existing operations through Brussels," they said.
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