Etihad Airways to triple number of seats on Delhi, Mumbai routes

Gulf carrier Etihad Airways today announced plans to more than triple the number of seats on its Delhi and Mumbai flights beginning November under the now disputed India- Abu Dhabi bilateral air services agreement (ASA).

The Gulf-based carrier announced its India push a day after the bilateral ASA was challenged in the Supreme Court.

Janata Party MP Subramanian Swamy has filed a petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the union cabinet's approval to increase the number of seats under the bilateral pact to almost 50,000 a week by 2015, up from 13,300 at present

This would make available to the airlines an additional 36,670 seats between India and Abu Dhabi.

Etihad today said it planned to more than triple number of seats on its Delhi and Mumbai routes from November on the basis of the bilateral ASA.

The airline, which has bought a 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways, will also enhance seat capacity on its Chennai flights by using a wide-body aircraft, Etihad said in a release.

Subramanian Swamy moved the Supreme Court, challenging the air services bilateral alleging large-scale corruption in the Jet-Etihad deal.

The ASA will cost the national carrier Air India annual losses to the tune of Rs2,058 crore, according to Subramanian Swamy.

Swamy, in his petition, also sought a CBI probe into the exponential increase in bilaterals.

"India is a key market for growth. Following the recent signing of a new air services agreement between India and the UAE, we now have the opportunity to add significant capacity between the two countries," James Hogan, president and chief executive officer of Etihad Airways, said.

Etihad will increase travel options between Abu Dhabi and India by introducing more flights and wide-bodied jets by the end of this year, the carrier said.

The airline will start operations on new routes next year, subject to regulatory approval, it said.