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India lifts ban on world's largest passenger plane, allowing superjumbos into Delhi, Mumbai

NEW DELHI - India has lifted its ban on Airbus superjumbo planes, allowing the world's largest passenger jet into New Delhi, Mumbai and two other cities equipped to handle the aircraft.

Despite ever-growing passenger numbers, India restricted Airbus A380 flights in 2008 in an effort to help struggling domestic carriers cope with global competition.

Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said that lifting the restrictions would help bring more revenue to airports and boost India's international reputation as a flight destination.

The ministry said Monday that Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Lufthansa have expressed interest in flying A380s into India. Only airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore can accommodate the double-decker planes, which can seat up to 850 passengers.

Airbus welcomed the move, which had been pushed for by international carriers aiming for a bigger foothold in a country with more than 1.2 billion people.

"This is good news for Indian airports and the Indian flying public," said Kiran Rao, executive vice-president of strategy and marketing for Airbus, in a statement.

Air travel has been growing at annual rates of 10-20 per cent in India, driven by business travellers and middle-class Indians looking to spend more on vacations.

Last month, the city of Mumbai unveiled a long-delayed $2 billion terminal, hoping to dazzle travellers with art installations and showcasing India's importance as a global destination. The new terminal boosts the airport's annual capacity from 30 million to 40 million passengers.

Indian carriers have struggled, however, under fierce competition and high costs for fuel and spare parts, leading to more than $8 billion in estimated losses over the last five years, with flag carrier Air India suffering the biggest hits.

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