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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April, 2005, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
First Indian budget flight abroad
Air India Express plane (copyright Air India)
The airline will link five Gulf destinations to India
India's first international budget airline has begun operations with a flight to the Middle East.

The state-owned Air India Express aircraft flew from the southern city of Trivandrum to Abu Dhabi.

Fares on the low-cost airline are up to 40% cheaper than competitors and it plans many more flights to the Gulf, where over three million Indians work.

India is looking to develop its airline industry as booming economic growth drives demand for travel.

Air India Express plans to operate nearly 40 services a week from five Indian cities - Trivandrum, Cochin, Calicut, Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay) - to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al 'Ayn in the United Arab Emirates, and Muscat and Salalah in Oman.

Growing market

The basic fare from Trivandrum to Abu Dhabi is 3,250 rupees ($74) and from Mumbai to Dubai 2,750 rupees ($62).

We will connect more destinations across the world in the coming months
V Thulasidas, Air India chairman

The airline is launching services with a fleet of three 181-seater Boeing 737-800s.

"Our objective is to make travel affordable and spur growth," Air India spokesman Jayendra Bhargava told the Associated Press.

"The earlier you buy your ticket, the cheaper the fare."

Mr Bhargava said that unlike many low-cost airlines, Air India Express would provide free snacks, juice and water to its passengers.

Though only 14 million Indians flew last year, airline travel is booming in the country, rising 26.5% in the six months to March.

The country's first budget airline, Air Deccan, launched operations two years ago, with flights connecting India's main cities.

Air Deccan's success has spurred at least two new low-cost airlines - Kingfisher Airlines and SpiceJet - which plan to begin operations in May.

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