It was telling that there was a kink in the red carpet India laid out on Jan 26 for leaders of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), who were chief guests at the country's Republic Day celebrations. The crinkle arose over a matter of access: many Asean leaders were not able to fly to the Indian capital directly - at least not on any commercial airlines. There are no direct flights between New Delhi and several Asean capitals, including those of relatively large nations such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The issue of strengthening air connectivity between India and Asean featured high on the agenda during the Asean-India Commemorative Summit held on the eve of India's Republic Day. While both sides agreed to deepen cooperation in the area of aviation and enhance air-links for better connectivity within the region, the challenge will be to realise this vision without further delays. There have been steps in this direction before. For example, at the second India-Asean Summit in Bali in 2003, then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called for an open-skies arrangement between Asean and India - an aspiration echoed by his successor, Mr Manmohan Singh. At the Asean Transport Ministers Meeting in November 2008, an Asean-India Aviation Cooperation Framework was adopted. But since then, progress has been slow.