NEW DELHI: India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are to hold talks soon on revising a 2007 air services pact and four sectoral agreements that will allow an increase in the number of flights between the two countries, which stand at 1,068 a week, the Emirates envoy to India, Ahmed Al Banna, said in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Al Banna also attributed the surprise extradition of alleged AgustaWestland chopper deal middleman Christian Michel from the UAE to India last month to the warming of ties between the two countries following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2015 visit to the Emirates.
On the air services pact, Al Banna said that 55% of all the Indians travelling abroad use airports in the Emirates—Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Several Indians also use Sharjah or Ras Al Khaimah airports, he said.
“We have more than 1,068 flights a week between all Indian airports and UAE airports," Al Banna said. There are 168,000 seats a week shared by Indian and UAE carriers.
In the case of the UAE, Indian carriers have used up rights completely while in the case of Qatar, it was up to 90%, the envoy said. International rules stipulate that if occupancy crosses 80%, both sides should review the air services agreement, Al Banna said.
The subject was on the agenda of the India-UAE joint commission meeting that was held last month for which foreign minister Sushma Swaraj travelled to the UAE.
India and the UAE signed an overarching bilateral pact on air services in 2007 and subsequently signed four other sectoral pacts. It is under the sectoral pacts that Indian carriers use the airports at Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.
“We have been talking to the (Indian) civil aviation (ministry) and have been pressing for the meeting and negotiations" for an increase in the number of flights to and from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, Al Banna said.
“There have been some hiccups here and there," the envoy said. “There was some lobbying from Indian carriers, thinking that increasing the number of flights (to and from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaima) will compete with them directly," Al Banna said. Competition would benefit travellers, he said.
Al Banna said the Indian side “was aware of the situation. The understanding that took place in the UAE meeting (during Swaraj’s visit) was that there will be a new round of negotiations with reference to the air service agreement."
India had decided in October not to allow an increase in flights operated by carriers from countries such as Qatar, UAE, Singapore, and China to India following Indian carriers objecting to it saying their international plans would be hit, according to news reports. Qatar, the UAE, Singapore and China had sought an increase in the number of flights on the grounds that the existing rights on the routes were utilized by Indian carriers as well.
On Michel’s extradition, Al Banna said India and the UAE have a strong security collaboration. “The very important strategic ties and the personal touch in the relationship...that sometimes makes things that don’t happen in one year, happen in one day," he said. Michel is one of three alleged middlemen being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate in the Augusta Westland case.