New SIA-Tata Group joint venture airline expects to take flight by mid-2014

Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong (left) shaking hands with Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma (right) as Tata Group chief Ratan Tata (centre) looks on during a meeting in New Delhi on Oct 25, 2013. India's foreign investment
Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong (left) shaking hands with Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma (right) as Tata Group chief Ratan Tata (centre) looks on during a meeting in New Delhi on Oct 25, 2013. India's foreign investment panel on Oct 25 approved plans by Singapore Airlines and the giant Tata Group to start a new airline, a senior official said. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's newest planned airline, a joint venture of the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines, expects to win swift regulatory clearance and be able to start flying by the middle of next year, the carrier's chairman said.

Indian tea-to-steel conglomerate Tata will hold a 51 per cent stake and Singapore Airlines 49 per cent in the new venture, which was announced last month, as they seek to exploit one of the world's fastest-growing aviation markets.

"We are looking at very fast clearances. We hope that we will be able to launch by May-June," Mr Prasad Menon, chairman of the new carrier, Tata SIA Airlines, told reporters late Friday.

Even though the Foreign Investment Promotion Board earlier this week cleared the venture to be headquartered in India's capital, a string of other regulatory approvals are needed before the new carrier can take to the skies.

"I don't see any problems" in the new airline obtaining the clearances, Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told reporters after meeting Tata SIA's executives in New Delhi on Friday.

The airline, which is planning to offer full service unlike rival carriers, which are mainly no-frills, needs a "no-objection certificate" from the Aviation Ministry.

The airline, which will have an initial combined investment of US$100 million (S$123.7 million) from the two stakeholders, marks the third foreign direct investment in the aviation sector since the government declared last year international airlines could buy as much as 49 per cent of local carriers.

The Tata Group is setting up another airline venture in India with Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia, which is expected to start operations early in 2014.

The government has also cleared the way for Abu Dhabi-based Etihad to pick up a stake in Indian private carrier Jet Airways.

India's aviation sector was once celebrated as a sign of the country's vibrant economy.

Its fortunes faded owing to a range of obstacles ranging from aggressive fare rivalry and rundown infrastructure to expensive fuel, but there now is renewed interest as investors eye the nation's vast aviation market and growing middle class.