Aviation sector feels war tremors

Friday, 21 March 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Domestic airfares are rising and international fares are on their way up in the initial upheavals of the U.S. war against Iraq, but Indian authorities Friday asserted that there was no cause for panic.

Airlines across the world were transferring the extra cost of flight diversions and fuel, apart from war surcharge, on to passenger fares.

According to travel agents, most airlines have increased fares by 10 to 15 percent to cover the cost of diverting flights.

Close on the tail of Indian Airlines (IA), private domestic operators Jet Airways and Sahara said they too, would impose a 15 percent hike to bring fares on par with those of IA.

"The new fares will come into effect shortly," Jet spokesman A.K. Sivanandan told IANS.

IA had Thursday announced an across-the-board hike on all its sectors as Civil Aviation Minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain insisted the decision was not related to the war but on the 44 percent increase in the price of aviation turbine fuel.

Air-India will also hike its fares by eight percent from April 1, after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) gave the nod to all airlines to increase their fares by five percent.

Air-India was expected to lose 700 million a month and Indian Airlines 400 million due to the flight cancellations, diversions and fuel costs.

Passengers across the globe have to bear the brunt of the war insurance premium, which has been raised from 0.05 percent to 0.175 percent this week. The international reinsurance industry has identified 24 war sensitive zones where airline operations will become costlier due to the war risk premium.

The evacuation of thousands of Indians from Kuwait following the U.S. war against Iraq was suspended after the kingdom's airport was closed Friday, Air-India officials said.

Scheduled and special flights from Kuwait were cancelled Friday. Air-India flight AI 859 to Kuwait that was to leave at 7:00 a.m. was first rescheduled and then cancelled.

The airline said its flights to all other destinations in the Gulf were operating normally, but many airlines have reduced flights.

Singapore Airlines and Korean Air have reportedly reduced flights to the Middle East. Emirates is routing flights along alternative routes to avoid the war zone.

The alternative routes to Europe include Iranian airspace to Georgia and then west over the Black Sea. Another detour is over Saudi Arabia.

Civil Aviation Minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said there was no need to panic and Indians in Kuwait were not expecting any major repercussions like the Gulf War of 1991 when thousands of Indians had to be evacuated in the biggest such operation by a civilian airliner.

"If the situation warrants it, then the civil aviation ministry has apprised the external affairs ministry of its evacuation plans and we are ready to put it into operation anytime," Hussain said.

Air-India and Indian Airlines have brought home some 1,400 Indians from Kuwait in special flights.

Airline officials said Indians there might have to leave by road to neighbouring countries and catch connecting flights.

Indians in Kuwait fear that the country could be attacked by Iraq following the outbreak of war.

International airlines were operating flights connecting India to Bahrain, Dammam and Kuwait in the region till Thursday. If the war forces the closure of airports at these places, alternative destinations have been worked out.
Source: IANS
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