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Sahara flies to Colombo; makes history

Abhijeet Kulkarni in Colombo | November 14, 2003 19:14 IST

Private carrier Air Sahara became the country's first private airlines to cross the Indian Shores when its maiden flight landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo on Friday.

The chartered non-revenue flight, S2 501, which embarked on its first ever sojourn from the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, was accorded a warm welcome by the Sri Lankan government.

"This flight is a message to the Indian government that we (Air Sahara) are ready to operate on foreign routes and that they should now come up with the necessary clearance as early as possible." Uttam Kumar Bose, CEO, Air Sahara, told PTI on board the flight.

Today's flight was a trial run and the company will only be able to operate commercial flights from India to Sri Lanka after the Cabinet nod for allowing private airlines to provide international operations.

Bose said Air Sahara plans to launch direct services from Mumbai and Chennai to the island nation and link other metros after necessary government permission is granted.

Air Sahara also has plans to connect various tourist destinations in the country in the near future, he added.

"Sri Lanka is slated as a favourable destination for many foreign tourists which gives us an opportunity to tap this important market and increase tourist traffic between the two countries," he said.

"A major chunk of Sri Lankan visitors to India are religious tourists who visit Buddhist worship centres and we plan to exploit that potential by providing connecting services to places like Sarnath (Varanasi), Bodhgaya (Patna) and Kushinagar (Gorakhpur)."

Bose said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has already accepted in principle to allow private airlines to operate on international routes and added that after Sri Lanka the government would also consider the proposal of allowing us to operate in Saarc and Asean nations.

The Indian government had last month signed an agreement with the Sri Lankan government according to which even private airlines could operate any number of flights from an destination in the country to Colombo while Air Lanka will be allowed to fly to 16 Indian destinations.

But for the private airlines to begin their services on a commercial basis the government needs to rectify the bilateral agreement and also make necessary changes to the civil aviation rules.

Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Rajiv Pratap Rudy has recently said the Cabinet was expected to give necessary clearance before the beginning of the winter session of the Parliament.

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