Govt aviation policy, a major hurdle: Sir Branson

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New Delhi, Nov 19 (UNI) The Indian government's civil aviation policy has prevented it from starting a domestic airline or investing in existing airlines in the country, said British business tycoon Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic said today.

''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,'' Sir Branson told reporters here.

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.

In time, the government will realise that true competition is good for Indian customers, Sir Branson said.

He said he has talked to the government on the issue and hope for a favourable response.

The billionaire Sir Branson said he would prefer stretched version of the Airbus A380 superjumbo for his Virgin Atlantic Airways.

''Ideally, we'd like Airbus to stretch them and Airbus is seriously looking into it. For the A380 to be really competitive; it needs to be even bigger than it currently is," Sir Branson said.

The stretched superjumbo would be designated as A380-900, Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy said last week.

Virgin Airlines has six A380s on order and is scheduled to be delivered in two and half years time.

''For A380 to be a viable flying option, the new Delhi airport has to come up soon. Infrastructure continues to be a major problem,'' said Sir Branson.

The company has also placed an order for 30 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which Sir Branson said reduces enviromental pollution because of its lightweight carbon-fiber body, instead of aluminum sheeting which accounts for lower carbon emissions.


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