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Afghan president inaugurates first air corridor with India, bypassing Pakistan

KABUL, June 19: President Ashraf Ghani has inaugurated the first Afghanistan-India air corridor during a ceremony at the Kabul international airport – a direct route that bypasses Pakistan and is meant to improve commerce.

Ghani, who thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the air corridor, said the aim of the route is to create more opportunities and make Afghanistan an exporter country. “India is a big market for Afghan goods,” he said.

The president’s adviser, Sediqullah Mujadedi, said Afghan agricultural products will for the first time head to India on cargo planes. Mujadedi said the first India-bound flight on Monday included 60 tons of medicinal plants and a second flight will carry 40 tons of dry fruits from the southern Kandahar province.

Afghanistan is a mountainous landlocked country and all imports and exports depend on neighbouring countries. Even before relations between Kabul and Islamabad became strained over accusations of harbouring militants, Pakistan has stymied Afghanistan’s efforts to trade with India.

After Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a transit trade agreement in 2010, Islamabad allowed Afghan trucks to carry goods up to the Indian border but barred them from ferrying any Indian goods through Pakistani territory.

The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) said the medicinal plants carried on the first flight were valued at $11 million. ACCI officials said the cost of transporting a kilogram of vegetables and fresh fruit from Kabul and Kandahar to Indian markets will be about 20 cents per kg, and the cost of a kilogram of goods from India to Afghanistan will be about 40 cents.

“Air cargo will help us increase our exports. (On Monday), 60 tons of medicinal plants will leave for India and after this, five flights will go to India from Kabul and Kandahar per week,” said Tawfiq Davari, ACCI’s financial deputy head.

Afghan businessmen and traders welcomed the initiative and said the air corridor will increase trade volumes between Afghanistan and other countries. They also said India is a lucrative market for them, especially for fresh and dried fruits.

The cost of air transit to Delhi and Amritsar is cheap and goods can be transferred from these cities to countries around the world, traders were quoted as saying by Tolo News.

“We have (made) the necessary preparations. We have built a cold room and a small packaging factory to pack the fruit properly. Also there are refrigerated vehicles,” said Nejabat Haidari, head of Fresh Fruits Union.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan embassy in Kabul said in a statement on Monday that Pakistan too intends to open a transit route for Afghan exports.

A number of economic analysts said with the “continued border closures between Pakistan and Afghanistan, traders cannot count on Pakistan’s move”, Tolo News reported.

Indians won’t need to fill departure cards when flying abroad from July 1

NEW DELHI, June 19: Indians flying abroad won’t have to fill out departure cards come July 1 as the Union home ministry has decided to discontinue the practice to save on time.

So far, Indians had to fill in details such as their name, date of birth, passport number, address in India, flight number and date of boarding on the departure card.

The order announcing the change noted that this information was available in the system from other sources.

However, those leaving the country through rail, seaport and land immigration checkposts will still have to fill embarkation cards.

The customs department had earlier also done away with the need for Indians to fill a form declaring they were not carrying dutiable goods.

These measures are aimed at reducing time taken to clear immigration formalities.

British Airways grounds flights after computer outage

LONDON, May 27: British Airways cancelled all flights from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy UK holiday weekend.

The airline said it was suffering a “major IT systems failure” around the world. It didn’t say what was causing the problem but said there was no evidence of a cyberattack.

A union official accused BA of cutting costs by laying off IT staff last year and outsourcing the work to India.

“This could have all been avoided,” said Mick Rix, national officer for aviation at the GMB union. “We can only feel genuinely sorry for the tens of thousands of passengers who are stranded at airports and face having their travel plans and holidays ruined.”

“In 2016 BA made hundreds of dedicated and loyal IT staff redundant and outsourced the work to India.”

“BA have made substantial profits for a number of years, and many viewed the company’s actions as just plain greedy,” he said, pointing to the 2016 move that sparked protests and outrage from members of the union.

BA is the latest airline to be hit by computer problems. Last month Lufthansa and Air France suffered a global system outage which prevented them from boarding passengers.

British Airways said a power supply issue was to blame for the global system failure which sowed confusion and chaos at London’s two biggest airports.

“We believe the root cause was a power supply issue and we have no evidence of any cyber attack,” Alex Cruz, chairman and CEO of British Airways, said in a video message on Twitter.

BA operates hundreds of flights from the two London airports on a typical day — and both are major hubs for worldwide travel.

Several hours after problems began cropping up Saturday morning, BA suspended flights up to 6pm (1700GMT) because the two airports had become severely congested. The airline later scrapped flights from Heathrow and Gatwick for the rest of the day.

Passengers at Heathrow reported long lines at check-in counters and the failure of the airline’s website and its mobile app. BA said the crash also affected call centers.

The airline said it was working to restore services out of Heathrow and Gatwick beginning Sunday, although there will still be some disruptions. It said it expected that London-bound long-haul flights would land on schedule Sunday.

One person posted a picture on Twitter of BA staff writing gate numbers on a white board.

“We’ve tried all of the self-check-in machines. None were working, apart from one,” said Terry Page, booked on a flight to Texas. “There was a huge queue for it and it later transpired that it didn’t actually work, but you didn’t discover that until you got to the front.”

Another traveler, PR executive Melissa Davis, said her BA plane was held for more than an hour and a half on the tarmac at Heathrow on a flight arriving from Belfast.

She said passengers had been told they could not transfer to other flights because “they can’t bring up our details.”

Passenger Phillip Norton tweeted video of an announcement from a pilot to passengers at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, saying the problem affects the system that regulates what passengers and baggage go on which aircraft. The pilot said passengers on planes that have landed at Heathrow were unable to get off because there was nowhere to park.

Some BA flights were still arriving at Heathrow on Saturday, although with delays.

The problem comes on a bank holiday weekend, when tens of thousands of Britons and their families are travelling.

American Airlines, which operates code-share flights with BA, said it was unaffected.

“All of our flights are on time,” said spokesman Ross Feinstein.

BA passengers were hit with severe delays in July and September 2016 because of problems with the airline’s online check-in systems.

Air India all-women crew creates world record by flying across the globe

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 5: Air India has set a new Guinness World Record by operating a flight around the world with an all-women crew ahead of International Women's Day.

The flight which departed from Delhi on February 27 for San Francisco, returned to the Indira Gandhi International airport on Friday after flying across the globe.

The aircraft, a Boeing 777-200LR, flew over the Pacific last week on its journey to San Francisco, while the return flight flew over the Atlantic, encircling the globe.

An Air India spokesperson said the airline has already applied for a Guinness World Record and Limca Book of Records for this feat.

Air India is the first Indian carrier to operate on the Pacific route which has reduced the flying time by up to three hours.

Apart from the cockpit and cabin crew, check-in and ground handling staff, and engineers who certified the aircraft were all women, Air India said.

It added that the Air Traffic Controllers who cleared the departure and arrival of the aircraft were also women.

As part of the celebrations on International Women's Day which is observed on March 8 every year, the flag carrier has also decided to operate similar flights on its domestic and other international routes.



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