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Scramble for southern skies

Rumi Dutta in Mumbai | November 15, 2004 12:49 IST

International airlines are winging their way into the south Indian skies. The Union ministry of civil aviation is flooded with requests from foreign airlines for additional bilateral rights to cities down south, including Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi.

The airlines include British Airways, Lufthansa, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Thai Airways, Swiss Airlines, Air Mauritius, Sri Lankan Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

Qatar Airways, for instance, recently stepped up the number of its flights to India from 19 a week to 51, of which 38 are to the southern region.

"We are in talks with the government to increase the frequency of our flights to India, primarily to south India," said D Goonetilleke, regional manager (south Asia, Maldives, Sri Lanka), Qatar Airways. Emirates operates more than 17 flights a week to south Indian destinations and would like to raise the number to as many as the government will permit.

"The potential is so huge we are ready to grab whatever is offered to us," an Emirates official had told Business Standard some time ago.

Sri Lankan Airlines, too, is increasing the number of flights to India --- from 66 a week to 73. It would like the additional seven flights to fly to south India, an airline official confirmed.

If airlines aren't seeking to put additional aircraft on other Indian routes --- Qatar Airways, for instance, doesn't fly to north India --- it's because few north Indian airports handle international flights.

In north India, eastern India and western India, only Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Goa handle international flights. Amritsar does handle some outbound flights but these are few and far between.

So what explains the huge rush to the south? "South India has the maximum number of airports that cater to international airlines," explains a senior executive of a Gulf-based carrier. Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kochi, Chennai, Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram and Trichy handle foreign carriers.

Another reason is that Bangalore and Hyderabad are popular software industry destinations.

Thirdly, Chennai has become an automobile production hub, with several automobile companies and automobile ancillary firms cropping up around the city.

Fourthly, a sizeable chunk of Indians working in the Gulf is from south India. Last but not the least, Kerala has emerged as a hot holiday destination, a Mumbai-based travel agent pointed out.

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