India's civil aviation restrictions to figure in Brown's discussions

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New Delhi, Jan 20 (UNI) The Indian government's civil aviation policy which has prevented it from starting a domestic airline or investing in existing airlines in the country, is expected to figure in the discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and British Prime Minister Gordon Grown, business tycoon Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic said today.

''Mr Brown is expected to take up the matter of restrictions in trade with the Indian Prime Minister and aviation is one of the issues,'' Mr Branson said.

The domestic airline segment has been reclassified as 'domestic scheduled passenger airline sector' in a recent note submitted to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) and the bar on foreign airlines has been emphasised strongly. Though foreign investment is allowed in domestic carriers, foreign airlines are barred.

A note submitted recently by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) to the CCEA said the bar on foreign airlines investing in India can not be lifted at present.

Initially, the government was trying to protect Air India, but now it has opened up the market, Sir Branson said, adding that the company has successfully operated long haul flights from Delhi and Mumbai.

The civil aviation ministry has been saying that foreign airlines would not be allowed to invest in domestic carriers till home-grown players have established themselves to withstand overseas competition.

''There should be no barriers and I hope to see the virgin brand in the domestic market soon,'' Mr Branson said.

Earlier in November 2007, Mr Branson had said the ''market is protected at the moment and if it ever opens up to true competition, the customers will find us on the domestic route,'' In time, the government will realise that true competition is good for Indian customers, Mr Branson added.

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