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Battle brews over India's skies

Kingfisher Airlines, like the beer, is the brainchild of Vijay Mallya (center).
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(CNN) -- The skies above India are becoming increasingly crowded with the launch of another airline.

Kingfisher Airlines, named after a well-known beer brand, is the third carrier to focus on low- to mid-tier fares and it is unlikely to be the last.

Now Jet Airways and Air Deccan have a new competitor, in what has been described as the hottest growth market for aviation.

Already up to five more airlines are waiting in the taxiways to enter India's air travel market, which is good news for consumers as well as aircraft manufacturers.

For many in this country of a billion-plus people, air travel is still a luxury. More people fly in one day in the U.S. than they do in an entire year in India.

Millions still use the country's extensive and cheap railway network even to the most far-flung destinations. Yet analysts say the potential for air travel is enormous, following the success of Ryanair and easyJet in Europe and Southwest in the U.S.

It helps that Kingfisher Airlines is offering fares as low as $5 on its single-class planes, while tickets on its inaugural Bombay to Bangalore flight last week were selling for as low as 3,900 rupees ($90).

Kingfisher is also hoping to lure passengers with in-flight entertainment, ample legroom and short-skirted flight attendants.

The airline is the latest venture of Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant head of the UB Group, a $2 billion conglomerate best known for Kingfisher beer.

Mallya has often been compared to Virgin's Richard Branson for the way he sells his own brand.

And last week's launch of India's newest airline was a case in point, involving all the trappings of a rock concert, including celebrity attendance, a red carpet and laser show.

"This is a world class experience, all at an affordable price. We are not a low-cost carrier and we do not intend to be one," Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher Airlines told CNN.

"This is a full-service carrier, which will provide the best in-flight experience in the sky."

An earlier effort to encourage competition in Indian aviation has brought in private players, but ticket prices are still high compared to Southeast Asia, North America or Europe.

As the Indian economy expands, a growing middle class with money to spend, plus increased business travel, has contributed to a 20 to 25 percent growth in passenger traffic.

SpiceJet, formerly Royal Airways, will launch later in May to compete with Kingfisher. Another airline, GoAir, also intends to take off soon.

GoAir's CEO Jeh Wadia says he intends to go after the 15 million people who travel on India's trains everyday and believes there is room for many more carriers.

"One airline, two airlines, five airlines, 10 airlines, in my opinion, 12 airlines, will not be enough to deliver the capacity that India as a country needs," says Wadia.

Aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus are also out to woo Indian carriers.

Boeing says the stakes are high with plane orders potentially worth more than $30 billion.

CNN's Ram Ramgopal contributed to this report

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