Big push to Saarc air links | india | Hindustan Times
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Big push to Saarc air links

In Dhaka last year, PM Manmohan Singh had suggested that the SAARC nations should "improve air connectivity amongst ourselves".

india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 02:57 IST

Imagine unlimited flights between Bhutan, Kathmandu, Male, Dhaka and Colombo to the six metros plus 18 airports in India. In about 18 months, this could well become a reality. That's of course assuming that these SAARC countries will accept Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's offer, to improve air connectivity in the South Asia region.

Singh's offer, first mooted at the SAARC summit last November, was followed up by the Union ministries of civil aviation and external affairs by formal proposals. Pakistan is the only nation to which a formal proposal on these lines has still not been forwarded, but that's only because bi-laterals are still being negotiated between New Delhi and Islamabad.

In Dhaka last year, Singh had suggested that the SAARC nations should "improve air connectivity amongst ourselves". "India is prepared to offer to all SAARC neighbours, on a reciprocal basis… the facility of daily air services by designated airlines from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and 18 other destinations," the PM had said.

The offer has since been followed up with formal proposals, which include an offer for Fifth Freedom Rights (civil aviation jargon for allowing an airline from one nation to make a stop at a second nation for onward travel to an altogether different destination). India's proposal provides that the ultimate destination need not necessarily be a SAARC country.

Government sources said they were confident that the offer "is likely to be received and reciprocated in the same spirit in which it has been made" and expect that in a year's time, inter-country discussions would be completed. This, however, is subject to the other SAARC nations signifying their assent.

Incidentally, the proposal also fits in with the government's future vision for India as an air transport hub once the Delhi and Mumbai airports are modernised. The 18 destinations that the PM has offered are Amritsar, Jaipur, Guwahati, Lucknow, Patna, Gaya, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar, Khajuraho, Goa, Kozhikode, Trivandrum, Cochin, Trichy, Vishakhapatnam, Indore, Bhopal and Gwalior.