//Patel grounds Air Kerala

Patel grounds Air Kerala

Friday, February 17, 2006

NEW DELHI, FEB 16:  This is one airline project that looks set to be grounded well before take-off. The Oommen Chandy government’s efforts to get into the international airline business — obviously an election time venture to impress the substantial Malayali population in the Gulf — has been rejected by civil aviation minister Praful Patel who has refused to make any exceptions in overcoming mandatory stipulations.

The new member from Kerala in the Manmohan Singh cabinet — NRI affairs minister Vyalar Ravi called on Mr Patel earlier this week to take up the cause on behalf of Mr Chandy — only to be told bluntly he could not bend the rules for anyone, far less for a state government.

Having the “Air Kerala” project airborne is important for the beleaguered Chandy government, who will be fighting the Assembly polls in the state with his back to the wall. Mr Chandy has gone to the extent of announcing that Air Kerala, a low cost airline, would reserve a few seats for the “poorest Malayalis’’ who came back from the Gulf once in five years.

In desperation, he had even offered a stake to Air India in the proposed airline “if it would help in obtaining federal clearance’’. He had submitted a detailed project report to the civil aviation ministry with plans to hire five Boeings to run services between Kerala and the Gulf.