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Singapore keen on liberal air bilateral pact with India -- SIA 

Aparna Kalra  
Singapore, April 11: With Singapore Airlines (SIA) notching-up 90 per cent passenger load factors from India, the Singapore government is keen to sign a more liberal air bilateral pact with Indian civil aviation authorities.The air bilateral is expected to come-up for re-negotiation next month."We are looking for more entitlements in India as our flights are full with more than 90 per cent loads" SIA chief executive officer Cheong Choong Kong told The Financial Express.

SIA wants the fresh bilateral with India to provide for staggered increase in its frequencies over a 3 to 4 year period.

"We are looking forward to a bilateral which takes care of not just the current but future growth of traffic as well between India and Singapore" added senior vice president (corporate affairs) Mathew Samuel.

SIA currently has a direct daily service from Singapore to Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai and a thrice weekly service to Calcutta. Its subsidiary, Silkair flies thrice weekly to Thiruvananthapuram.

The airline is scouting for more cities to operate to in India, with interest peaking in Hyderabad after President Clinton's visit. "Hyderabad and Bangalore are the cities to watch" felt senior vice president (special projects) HB Tan.

In terms of net profit, SIA has been ranked amongst the top six airlines in the world along with Delta Airlines, Lufthansa, American Airlines and United by Air Transport World.

The airline is ranked 19th amongst international airlines in terms of operating revenue.

SIA's success story underscores the airline's emphasis on efficient customer service symbolised by the `Singapore Girl'. The national carrier of the richest Asian city-state has also kept pace with the latest technology by introducing flat sleep beds in the First Class and individual TV screens for all passengers.

Besides its profits, the rich airline has loose cash of "1 billion Singapore dollars" earned through sale-and-lease of aircraft which it is keen to invest in overseas ventures. A start was made in this direction when SIA bought an equity stake in Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic.

The deal with Virgin will enable SIA to code-share on trans-Atlantic routes."The reason why SIA is keen to invest abroad is because that is the only way we can grow" said CEO Cheong Kong.

Kong said that India and China remained the biggest markets in Asia. He, however, refused to make any comments on whether SIA is keen to play the role of strategic partner in Air India.

He pointed out that the Indian government had not yet spelt out the terms and condition of its disinvetsment in Air India. "We do not know what is on offer and cannot make any comments at this stage" added the CEO of SIA.Lufthansa and United Airlines, incidentally, have shown their disinclination to invest in Air India. SIA, it may be recalled, was the partner chosen by the Tatas for their domestic airline project which saw was aborted after the Government drafted a policy barring foreign airlines from entering domestic aviation.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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