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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
India offers planes to Afghan airline
Ariana Boeing 727-200 plane
Ariana only had two planes that were still airworthy
India has offered to provide three Airbus A-300 aircraft to Afghanistan's Ariana Airline to help rebuild the country's flag carrier.

Despite a severe shortage of aircraft, we will have to give the three planes because of diplomatic compulsions

Air India
"The first of the three aircraft currently with Air India will be handed over to Ariana Airlines by the end of this month," Indian Civil Aviation Minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said after meeting with visiting Afghanistan counterpart, Zalmai Rasool.

Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on Monday to restore air links by operating weekly flights between the two capitals, Islamabad and Kabul, later this month.

"Both India and Pakistan have a deep interest in what happens in Afghanistan, which has said it needs training air traffic controllers and rebuilding airports and India is very keen to get in on that side also," Tom Ballantyne, the chief correspondent of Orient Aviation told the BBC's World Business Report.

The resumption of flights comes despite continuing rocket attacks against a number of airports in Afghanistan.

European routes

Mr Hussain said three Indian pilots would fly the aircraft for three months and that India had also offered to train Afghan pilots.

"Most of the fleet was decimated by US air strikes, but it still has a small network," said Mr Ballantyne.

"Air India is in the midst of re-fleeting and these aircraft are some of the first they would have got rid of."

Ariana Airlines plans to operate routes to London, Frankfurt and Paris with the three aircraft.

Ariana currently owns one Boeing 727-200 Advance Series, and one Antonov 24 which fly to Delhi, Dubai, Herat and Dushanbe.

The carrier has only recently resumed international services after they were stopped in 1999 due to UN economic sanctions against Afghanistan to try and force the handover by the Taleban government of Osama bin Laden.

Political strike

One Air India official reportedly expressed his concern over the loss of three planes from its ageing fleet.

"Despite a severe shortage of aircraft, we will have to give the three planes because of diplomatic compulsions," the Air India official was reported as saying.

"The airline has been cutting routes and really needs more aircraft to keep our dwindling market share," the official added.

Air India, which the government has failed to privatise several times, has been trying to buy new aircraft because several of its current fleet are nearly 20 years old.

Under fire

Meanwhile, at least four rockets hit eastern Afghanistan's key airport of Jalalabad on Wednesday, the Afghan Islamic Press reported.

Other such facilities in eastern Afghanistan, particularly the Khost airport, have been frequently hit by rocket attacks in recent weeks.

The Jalalabad and Khost airports serve as US and British military bases for operations in Afghanistan.

Tom Ballantyne, Orient Aviation
"Most of the fleet was decimated by US air strikes, but it still has a small network."
See also:

06 May 02 | Business
Aid donors 'failing Afghanistan'
12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan airline battles for the skies
04 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan airline returns to the skies
02 Jan 02 | Business
Costs mount for India airlines
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