India, US sign 'Open Skies' aviation agreement
Indian airliners currently operate 28 flights a week to the United States with nearly 2 mln passengers travelling between the two countries annually.
"This agreement will result in more services, more options, more innovation and lower prices," said Mineta.
US-based Delta Airlines plans new connections between New York and the southern Indian city of Madras, while Northwest Airlines intends to start flying between Minneapolis and India's IT-hub Bangalore.
Earlier this month, US-based Continental Airlines announced that it will be launching daily non-stop flights between New Delhi and New York that will cut the 15-hour journey by up to two-and-a-half hours.
"There is no better symbol for how much closer our two nations are than the fact that travellers will soon be able to step onto a plane in New York and land in New Delhi in a matter of hours," said US Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.
Air India will add flights to three new US routes -- Washington, San Francisco and Houston -- following the new agreement, according to Indian officials. Private Indian airlines, which have not been allowed to fly to the United States, are likely to add US destinations.
After years of allowing only Indian state carriers to fly lucrative long-haul routes, the government in January bowed to passenger demand and opened the routes to private airlines.
India's Aviation Minister Patel urged US firms to invest in aviation infrastructure such as airports in the country, which must be revamped to cope with passenger growth in one of the world's fastest-growing economies.
"India is on track to become a major economic power. But becoming a world-class economic powerhouse requires a world-class transportation infrastructure. The US is committed to partnering India to develop and grow its transportation infrastructure," Mineta said.
India's domestic air traffic is growing more than 20 pct annually and international air traffic is growing at 17 pct, according to industry figures.
Mineta said the two countries are expected to sign an agreement soon for information and technology exchanges on global navigation systems, air traffic control, airport infrastructure and aircraft safety certification.