India promises flights from Thailand and Singapore to the Andaman Islands

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has said he will try to link Singapore and Thailand to the Andaman Islands by air before the end of March 2008, but pointed out that the archipelago needed a makeover to effectively sell itself to tourists.

The announcement comes amid an unprecedented increase in the number of arrivals by low-budget domestic airlines to the Andamans. Most of the 36 inhabited islands in the group are now partially open to visitors.

Patel said the Indian Ocean archipelago, mauled by the tsunami in 2004, could outshine destinations in Thailand and Singapore if it were refurbished. Most European tourists to India avoid the islands because of their remote location and the overwhelming presence of the Indian military.

"We intend to link the Andamans to Singapore, Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand by air within six months, if we are certain we can match their tourism industries," Patel said.