The skies have opened up for Indian carriers in the United States and the United Kingdom with the government liberalising the air services agreement with the two countries.
India and the US on Thursday signed a landmark agreement allowing unrestricted number of airlines to mount any number of flights to any point in each other's territory.
The historic agreement was signed by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and US Transportation Secretary Norman Y Mineta in New Delhi.
The Union Cabinet, presided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had on Wednesday night given its nod for replacing the 1956 Air Services Agreement with the new one according to which Air-India and other carriers will have additional ports of call other than existing ones like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Newark (New Jersey).
Similarly, American carriers will also be able to have direct operations to additional cities in India.
Currently, Indian carriers operate 28 flights a week to the US which has 14 flights.
The new accord also seeks to remove the earlier restriction of code-share rights to any five points in the respective territories of both countries.
It proposes to eliminate all existing restrictions on Fifth Freedom traffic through intermediate points and provides for greater operational flexibility.
A special provision relating to safety has been added in the new agreement.
The civil aviation ministry had recently gave an in-principle permission to Jet Airways to operate three flights to New York from Mumbai via Brussels.
The private carriers are expected to start operations to the US by October-November 2005.
The agreement with the United Kingdom, signed on Wednesday, means that Indian carriers can now operate 56 flights from Delhi and Mumbai to London. On all other routes, the carriers can have any number of flights.
At present, private carriers are allowed 9 flights to London. The move is also expected to lead to a huge dip in the airfares on the India-UK route.
For example, on the India-Singapore route, private Indian carriers like Air Sahara have slashed fares to as low as Rs 10,000 from the existing Rs 16,000.
Besides, state-run carriers Indian Airlines and Air-India also wanted to start additional services on the India-UK route. Aviation industry sources pointed out that with the increase in the number of seats, fares on this busy sector would drop.
This is the first time in nearly two decades that there has been any significant increase in air services between India and the UK.
As part of the agreement between the two governments, in the winter of 2005, the number of flights will go up to 42 from the present 12. In the summer of 2006, the number will grow to 49. It will be 56 in the winter of 2006.
In addition, there can be 14 flights a week from the UK to Bangalore and Chennai and 7 flights a week from that country to any other city in India.
Indian private carriers said this move would give them great operational freedom and that they could now look at operating more flights on the route.
Additional inputs: Business Standard