Beijing – China and the US are set to be connected by an Indian carrier for the first time, if Jet Airways is cleared by the Chinese authorities to fly its proposed Mumbai-Shanghai-San Francisco route.
This would also be the first direct flight link between the commercial capitals of India and China, two of the world’s fastest growing economies. Air India currently operates flights on a Mumbai-Delhi-Bangkok-Shanghai route.
Mr Naresh Goyal, Chairman of Jet Airways, says the airline is ready to start operating the flights on a daily basis from as early as next month. However, the Chinese government is still to give clearance.
The reasons for the foot-dragging on the Chinese side is that New Delhi is currently blocking the entry of Chinese cargo carrier Great Wall Airlines to Mumbai and Chennai, reportedly due to the fact that key nuclear facilities are located near these two airports. The Indian government’s move springs from the fact that one of the former owners of the airline in question — China Great Wall Industry Corporation — was blacklisted by the US for alleged transfer of missile technology to Iran.
Beijing’s obstruction of Jet Airways’ plans is thus a retaliatory measure.
Under a bilateral civil aviation agreement signed in April 2005, during Chinese Premier, Mr Wen Jiabao’s visit to India, the airlines of both countries are allowed to operate up to 42 weekly flights between the two nations. However, while Chinese carriers already boast a combined 18 weekly flights, India’s Air India (at present the only Indian airline that flies to China) only runs four flights a week.
During a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Saturday afternoon, the Commerce Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, brought up Jet’s case as a concern, arguing that Beijing should de-link it from the Great Wall Airline issue.
Mr Goyal says he is hopeful the matter will be resolved soon, perhaps even while the Indian Prime Minister is in Beijing. “After all the (Indian) PM has said he wants to transform Mumbai into Shanghai. If that is so, isn’t it first necessary to have a direct flight between the two cities?” he smiles.
In addition to daily flights between Mumbai and Shanghai, Jet also plans to link Beijing with Mumbai, as well as New Delhi.