Bahrain's state-owned Gulf Air wants to double its flights to India to more than 100 a week but the air-services agreement between the two countries is a constraint, it said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, India permitted Gulf Air to increase the number of its weekly flights to 65 from 56, under a revised agreement between the two countries. But a Bahraini official involved in the negotiations said his country wanted more flights approved.
"The airline is not satisfied with the given capacity," Abdulrahman Al Gaoud, undersecretary for civil aviation affairs told reporters.
"We were actually looking for doubling the capacity that we have today," Gulf Air Chief Executive Bjorn Naf said.
"There is a strong demand ... India and China need resources which are in Africa. So there is a strong link, strong bridge going to Africa via the Middle East," Naf said.
Air traffic between the Middle East and India is rising on account of a large Indian expatriate population and as affluent Indians fly on business and on leisure. Industry research body the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation has forecast double-digit growth for air traffic between the two regions till 2010.
India's contribution to the airline's revenue and workforce, currently about 6 per cent, will rise significantly as Gulf Air adds flights and routes, Naf said.
The airline, which has 29 planes, is looking to replace some of its ageing aircraft and has ordered 24 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and is in talks with Airbus for eight A320 narrowbody aircraft.
"We are in talks with Boeing and Airbus for narrow body aircraft also," Naf said.
Naf said he was not much worried about Boeing pushing back the first test flight and deliveries of the Dreamliner by about three months as the current financial crisis in the United States might lead some carriers to delay their growth plans.
"Maybe we can get some aircraft from other carriers to operate then," he said.
Gulf Air last year slashed its network and cut its workforce by about 25 per cent, or about 1,500 jobs, after announcing losses of more than $1 million (Dh3.65 million) a day.
The airline at that time pledged to operate with minimum state support and said its government owner could sell shares to the public as early as this year.
Naf, however, said it was not the right time for a stake sale. He said the company was looking for opportunities, but the present was not the time to change its ownership structure. (Reuters)
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