Airline seats for LNG with Qatar may not pass muster

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SummaryAviation ministry says Qatar’s previous commitments unfulfilled.

The government’s plans to negotiate cheaper gas price with Qatar in exchange for increased airline seats between India and the Gulf nation is unlikely to find favour among all ministries.

This is because Qatar failed to fulfil its commitments made during the negotiations for the Air Services Agreement with India. At the negotiations held in 2005, Qatar Airways had made a commitment to hire pilots trained from the government-owned Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA), which has not been fulfilled.

“Qatar has hired only a few pilots, whereas, the commitments made during the negotiations were of many more,” said a senior civil aviation ministry official.

These issues are being discussed at a time when the government is looking to extract concessions in the form of a discount on liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies from Qatar in exchange for raising the cap on the number of flights between the countries.

An email sent to Qatar Airways did not elicit any response but a ministry official said that Qatar Airways feels that IGRUA pilots are not trained enough to become their pilots.

The Qatar government has been asking for a steep expansion in flight entitlements to its hub in Doha, to 72,600 seats a week from 24,800 seats, with the aim of creating a hub for outbound Indian travellers that can compete with Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Qatar is pushing for an increase in bilateral entitlements after India allowed a huge increase in entitlements to 49,000 weekly seats from 13,000 between India and Abu Dhabi in April.

The civil aviation ministry, however, sees no need for any increase in bilateral entitlements between the two countries, as Indian carriers are able to utilise only 25 per cent of the existing quota.

While Qatar has exhausted almost all of its quota of 24,800 weekly seats, Indian carriers have been able to use less than 6,000 weekly seats.

“There is no case for any increase in bilaterals between the two countries but the government can always decide otherwise, as a lot of factors are taken into consideration while deciding on bilaterals,” said the ministry official.

Another official in the ministry, however, said that it is not a good idea to negotiate with someone, who has failed to honour its commitments.

One of the key factors that weighed in favour of the increase in seats awarded to Abu Dhabi was a commitment by the Emirate to invest about $50 billion in India’s infrastructure sectors

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