No move to amend air traffic agreements with Gulf nations

However, the government is reviewing the existing air services agreements (ASAs) with nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), with a view to expand them to ensure seamless multi-modal travel within the region, official sources said.

There is no move as of now to review the ASAs in respect of the Gulf nations, despite severe criticism by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report tabled in Parliament last week, the sources said.

While it was not possible to go back on a treaty signed with a foreign country unless it expires, these ASAs with the Gulf countries have serious financial and diplomatic implications, they said.

The CAG had recommended "strict freeze" on bilateral agreements with the Gulf countries as their airlines were making full use of the 6th Freedom rights to fly Indian travellers to Europe and the US.

Under 6th Freedom, an airline can carry passengers from one foreign country to another with a stopover at its home country. For example, a UAE carrier can pick up a traveller from Mumbai and take him to Washington via Dubai.

The CAG had castigated the government that such agreements were entered into without giving time and space to Indian carriers to "set their houses in order", thereby adversely affecting their interests.

On the expansion of ASAs with SAARC nations, they said a new idea of providing a combined rail-road-air-waterway ticket, in line with the seamless travel arrangement provided in Europe, was being considered.

Such a combo ticket would enable a traveller to take a flight to another SAARC country and travel to the final destination using a train, a bus or even a vessel.

The proposed agreements, which would go beyond the general scope of ASA which caters only to air travel, would benefit the people of countries like Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bangladesh, besides India, through intermodal seamless transfers.

Under the new arrangement, the government is also planning to encourage wider code-share agreements among the airlines of the SAARC countries, the sources said.

The SAARC summit last December had called for collaborative efforts to achieve greater intra-regional connectivity and declared 2010-2020 as the "Decade of Intra-regional Connectivity in SAARC".

It had recommended evolving of specific measures to enhance multi-modal connectivity including air, sea and surface transport.

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