India-Pak flights doubled, new stops at Islamabad, Chennai

India and Pakistan brokered a major air bilateral deal on Friday doubling the number of flights, adding new destinations and even new airline services along the sector. The two neighbours signed an MoU in Rawalpindi adding Chennai in India and Pakistan's capital Islamabad as new destinations, finally clearing a long-standing demand from the Indian side.

The agreement means the Indian and Pakistani capitals can have direct air connectivity henceforth, with the addition of the third destination on each side—India has long been pushing for a Delhi-Islamabad flight and had even recommended it as a highly desirable SAARC regional connectivity corridor. At present, Indian and Pakistani airlines fly onlyto New Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi and Lahore.

"It was agreed that each country shall henceforth be entitled to designate three airlines each to operate the agreed services on the specified routes. It was also agreed to increase the frequency of flights per week from 12 to 28 for each side," said the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs here.

Pakistan had demanded a 'quantum jump' in number of flights at talks held between civil aviation authorities in March 2006. The talks had been rather unexciting with both sides failing to come to an agreement on increasing flights or adding new destinations. The two sides also agreed to designate three airlines each to operate the "agreed services on the specified routes". Currently, only state-owned Air India and Pakistan International Airline (PIA) operate between the countries.

Private carriers like Jet Airways will now be able to offer services to Pakistan. No other private Indian airline is eligible yet to fly long international routes. Kingfisher is, however, banking on partner Air Deccan getting international flying rights later this year when it completes five years of operation.

"Both sides expressed satisfaction that the new arrangement would further the objective of facilitating people-to-people contact, business and trade activities between the two countries," read a joint statement issued after the two-day meet. While Director General of Civil Aviation Kanu Gohain led the Indian side, Major General Mir Haider Ali Khan, Additional Secretary Ministry of Defence, headed the Pakistan delegation.

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