India's newest budget carrier Akasa opens bookings, flights begin on Aug 7

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FILE PHOTO: Passengers wait for their luggage at a conveyor be at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport in Mumbai
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By Aditi Shah

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's newest budget carrier Akasa Air, which is backed by billionaire Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, has opened ticket sales for its first commercial flights starting Aug. 7, the airline said in a statement on Friday.

Akasa's initial network will include a total of 56 weekly flights between the western cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad and the southern cities of Bengaluru and Kochi on its new Boeing 737 MAX planes, it said.

"Akasa Air's network strategy is focused on establishing a strong pan-India presence and providing linkages from metro to tier 2 and tier 3 cities across the country," said Praveen Iyer, the airline's co-founder and chief commercial officer.

Iyer said Akasa will expand its network in a phased manner, connecting to more cities as it adds new aircraft each month.

Akasa's commercial launch comes at a time when domestic air travel in India has seen a sharp recovery with airlines flying over 57 million passengers in the first six months of the year, up 238% from a year ago, government data showed.

This is helping airlines such as IndiGo, India's biggest carrier, and Vistara, a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Tata Sons, to boost capacity and utilisation levels.

Air India, under its new owners the Tata Group, and full-service carrier Jet Airways, which has come out of bankruptcy, are close to finalising new plane orders.

Akasa, which has a total of 72 Boeing planes on order, will directly compete with other budget carriers like IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoFirst.

Jhunjhunwala, known as "India's Warren Buffett", has teamed up with ex-Jet Airways CEO Vinay Dube and former IndiGo head Aditya Ghosh for Akasa.

(Reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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