India-Abu Dhabi air services pact gets Cabinet nod

The bilateral air services agreement between India and Abu Dhabi, which landed the Prime Minister’s Office in a controversy following the Jet-Etihad deal, got the Union Cabinet’s nod on Tuesday.

The agreement enables the airlines of the two countries, among other things, to enhance their seat capacity to 36,670 from the existing 13,700 over a three-year period.

The Cabinet meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The seat increase will be at the rate of 11,000 seats per week this year, another 12,800 seats in 2014 and 12,870 in 2015. The agreement allows the designated airlines of the two countries to operate and later increase or decrease the number of flights, seats per week and choose the aircraft type. The agreement had triggered a huge outcry from many MPs and political leaders against signing of the Rs 2,058 crore deal between Jet Airways and Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad.

Opponents like Jaswant Singh (BJP), Dinesh Trivedi (TMC), Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI) and Subramanian Swamy approached the prime minister charging that the government was favouring the private Indian carrier at the cost of others. They alleged that the agreement was a quid pro quo for Etihad finalising its deal with Jet Airways.

The prime minister had asked the Civil Aviation Ministry to revise the Cabinet note, addressing the concerns flagged by these politicians. It was also asked to detail the sequence of events leading to the signing of the agreement in April.

The PMO had issued a statement rebutting the charge that the new bilateral agreement was to give a boost to the Jet-Etihad deal. The decision on allocation in a phased manner was taken by Inter-Ministerial Group. An ex-post facto approval of the Union Cabinet was required for the agreement to be operationalised.

Officials said the agreement would facilitate an Indian carrier to fly passengers to Abu Dhabi and transfer them to its own bigger aircraft to fly to other destinations.

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