Jet's slots sale to Etihad no loss to exchequer: Government

New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) The civil aviation ministry Monday spiked allegations that the government incurred losses on account of the sale of Jet Airway's flying slots at London's Heathrow Airport to Abu Dhabi-based Ethihad Airways, terming it as a private matter.

"The slots are permissions to use airport infrastructure which is given by the airport to the airlines. In case of Heathrow Airport, after two years (of allotment) the airline is entitled to sale or lease (the slot)," the ministry said in a statement.

"The trade of slot must be confirmed by the airport coordination limited, Heathrow. In the case of slot allocation at Heathrow Airport, the government of India has no role to play," said the statement.

In late Feburary, Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways bought Jet Airways' slots at London's Heathrow airport by paying an amount of $70 million under the sale and lease back agreement, under which the Indian passenger carrier will be able to continue its operations to London with these slots.

The ministry's stand on the issue came up as it was alleged that Jet Airways sold slots at Heathrow Airport which are owned by the government and which amounted to cheating.

However, the ministry said this was a common practice at the Heathrow Airport, where 526 slots were traded during 2012.

Recently, the issue was raised by members of parliament (MPs) and the parliament standing committee on transport, tourism and culture.

The ministry added that Air India also is involved in slot trading. Currently, Air India has leased out one of its four pairs of slot at Heathrow Airport to the US's Delta Airways.

Etihad Airways has agreed to buy 24 percent stake in Jet Airways. The deal is expected to garner around Rs.2,058 crore ($379 million) for Jet Airways, which, the company said, will enable it to service its debts and provide passengers with better connectivity.

Some parliamentarians and political parties, including the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have voiced opposition to the deal and sought an explanation from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Even government agencies like Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and Competition Commission of India (CCI) also had raised concerns over the ownership patterns of the airline after the deal. This prompted the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) to defer its decision on the issue. The FIPB is likely to take up the matter at the month's end.

There are also allegations that the government had given concession to the deal by exponentially increasing flying rights between Abu Dhabi and India through the new bilateral air service agreement (BASA).

Earlier. the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said concerned departments and agencies would look into the proposal and would deal with it as per usual practice.

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