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PAGE 20 • INDIA HERALD • WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

INDIA

A wish that can make AI fly non-stop

NEW DELHI A prod from the Prime Minister’s Office is said to have prompted the state-owned Air India to resurrect a near-forgotten proposal to launch the world’s longest non-stop flight that some airline officials fear is economically unviable. Air India is preparing to deploy a Boeing 777-200 LR (Long Range) aircraft for the thrice-a-week Delhi-San Francisco flight at the behest of the PMO without prior route viability studies, multiple sources in the airline have told The Telegraph. The airline had itself examined the idea in 2009 but had kept it in abeyance because of poor response Air India is receiving on its long-haul flights to several other international destinations, said a top official in the national carrier. “However, the PMO indicated that announcing a new flight to connect the two countries now would be a good idea,” the official said, adding that the decision was hence taken “hur-

riedly” ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit that concluded last night. Another official said that during a recent internal meeting, some airline officials had expressed concern that Air India already was facing huge losses on its other flights from India to three US cities: New York, Chicago and Newark. “However, we decided in favour of the proposal because the PMO was very keen that a gift should be announced during the Prime Minister’s presence on the US West Coast,” said an official who was present during that meeting. “We then thought of launching the flight and seeing if we can sustain it.” After the Prime Minister had finished his hour-long speech before Indian-Americans at California’s SAP Centre on Sunday, Modi returned to the microphone and said: “Oh, I forgot to share some good news...” and announced the non-stop flight. “Air India will launch a direct flight to San

Francisco from December 2 this year. It will fly three times a week,” Modi said. The 14,000km flight to San Francisco will be operated on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, bookings for which will start in a few days. An official in the Union civil aviation ministry’s finance division, however, cited a provisional route economics report for 2014-15 which shows that Air India has lost money on 57 of its 59 international routes with the losses touching Rs 4,275 crore during the last financial year. “Three of the top four biggest loss-making routes have been Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Newark, Mumbai-Delhi-New York and Hyderabad-Delhi-Chicago flights. They have been operating with an average occupancy rate of less than 45 per cent and have not broken even yet. Many passengers prefer the hub-and-spoke model that several international airlines follow,” he said. A former official said the gov-

Fight over privacy rights The issue of the right to privacy took an interesting turn on Tuesday after the Gujarat Government filed an application claiming that such privilege was “absolute”. This was in sharp contrast to a stand taken by the Centre in the past that the right to privacy was not a Fundamental Right, which had forced the Supreme Court to refer the matter to a Constitution Bench. However on Tuesday, the Centre did not oppose the stand taken by the Gujarat Government, giving a clear indication of a rethink over this sensitive policy issue. The Constitution Bench is presently seized with a batch of petitions challenging the Aadhaar card scheme on the ground that it violates privacy. On Tuesday, the previous three-judge Bench that referred the matter to the Constitution Bench took up separate applications filed by the Centre and Gujarat to allow Aadhaar cards for availing various social benefit programmes apart from LPG and PDS schemes. Appearing for the Gujarat Government, senior advocate Harish Salve said, “There is full right to privacy in the country. As a law student I feel 2015 is very late in the day to argue there is no right to privacy. To everybody’s surprise, this went unopposed by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Pinky Anand, who represented the Centre on behalf of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UID). Noticing the changed approach of the Centre on right to privacy, the Bench of Justices

ernment should stop “armtwisting” the airline for political reasons if it is serious about its “turnaround”. “I can’t fathom how the decision to start a new long-distance, non-stop flight to the US has been taken when it’s (Air India’s) other three flights to the country are piling up huge losses year after year,” said Jitendra Bhargava, former executive director of the national carrier. Air India stopped a direct flight between Delhi and Toronto in 2012 because of poor occupancy and high operational costs. Air India flights to Sydney, Moscow, and Milan - each of them started over the past 18 months - are on the verge of being called off because of similar reasons, Bhargava said. “Is this a move to please the Indian diaspora whom the PM was addressing? How can Air India afford to sustain this route?” Dhiraj Mathur, an aviation analyst with the global firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said there is intense competition on the international circuit. Air

India has not been able to compete with the likes of Emirates, American Airlines, British Airways and Lufthansa because of their aggressive marketing strategies and service quality, he said. “All these airlines fly to US cities via stops in Europe such as London, Dublin and Frankfurt, which makes more sense as they earn money from both passenger fare and cargo rates,” Mathur said. “Air India should first turn existing operations profitable before plunging into an exercise that might not be marketable in the long run.” PMO spokesperson Sarat Chandra was not available for comment despite repeated attempts. The aviation ministry had recently sent out notes to all domestic carriers asking them to operate more flights to Varanasi - the Prime Minister’s constituency. Air India had also obliged by launching a Varanasi-Sharjah flight that has been running on occupancies of under 35 per cent. —The Telegraph

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J Chelameswar, SA Bobde and C Nagappan remarked, “If this position was taken on day one, we would not have been required to refer this question to a larger Bench.” The court even raised doubts that having referred the petitions to a Constitution Bench, it could still entertain the application for passing interim orders. The conflicting positions also caused deep unrest among the petitioners who had throughout maintained that privacy as a Fundamental Right cannot be doubted after several judgements of the SC established that privacy was inherent in right to life and personal liberty contained in Article 21. Since the petitioners had not received either the application of the Centre or Gujarat, the Bench posted the matter for hearing next Tuesday. Besides, several other applications were filed by SEBI, Reserve Bank of India and Jharkhand Government for modifying the August 11 order

of the apex court restricting the use of Aadhaar cards to LPG and PDS scheme alone. The Centre in its application said that the court order did not allow citizens to avail of several social welfare schemes, hassle free banking and financial transactions to which they voluntarily consented. RBI claimed that security market required banks to rely on Aadhaar information to process requests of consumers, for which the order needs modification. The Aadhaar coverage stood at 91.68 crore and all facilities such as driving licence, Pan Card, passport, ration card, election I-card were also linked through Aadhaar, which in the case of some citizens is their only identity proof. The Centre made out a case that Aadhaar helped Government authorities to weed out bogus beneficiaries, essential for successful implementation of schemes such a MNREGA.

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