AI Terminates Maiden International Flight Launched By Sonia From Srinagar
Srinagar, May 18: The much-hyped Srinagar-Dubai flight seems to have lost its wings, once and for all.
The flight, which was withdrawn from January this year in the wake of poor passenger response, is unlikely to be restored despite the state government’s repeated requests to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to get it restored in the public interest. Sources said the Ministry had recently asked the Air India Express, a subsidiary of Air-India, to explain why the service, which had brought Srinagar on the international aviation map, was withdrawn and why it can’t be restored.
In response, the airline authorities categorically refused to resume the service in near future on the pretext that it was not a “commercially viable venture.” The Ministry move followed the outcry by a couple of Parliament Members from Jammu and Kashmir that the airliner should immediately restore the service, which was launched with much fanfare by the United Progressive Alliance chairperson, Sonia Gandhi in Srinagar on February 14, 2009.
The Air India Express has also written that it had made some “alterations” in the flight route-plan to make it more viable, but failed. “The airliner also responded in the same parlance to representations made by the state MPs on restoration of the service,” the sources said. When contacted, a top Air India Express officer ruled out resumption of Dubai-Srinagar flight. “It is not a commercially viable venture,” the officer, who requested not to be named, said. “So I don’t think there is any possibility of restoring the service.”
He said: “We just had an average of 54 passengers from Srinagar to Dubai against the capacity of 160. So we were running into losses and suspended the service.”
The officer said they operated the service from Amritsar also, but it couldn’t draw more passengers. “We recently received a communication from the Ministry that why the service was withdrawn. We told that it can no longer be continued for financial reasons. Our expenditure on the flight operation would be Rs 2.5 lakh per-hour, but we couldn’t generate even half of that as revenue,” he said.
Member Parliament, Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz, terms the Air India Express argument as ‘unsatisfactory.’ “It is a lame excuse to say that it is not a commercially viable venture. That may be a case, but the point is you should have the will to restore it, and then we can find means of making it commercially viable,” he told Greater Kashmir over phone from New Delhi.
Prof Soz had recently raised the issue in the Parliament urging the Civil Aviation Ministry to restore the service. “If you connect the flight with Jeddah, you will draw many customers. I not only raised the issue in the Parliament but also before the Parliament Standing Committee for Transport and Culture. The members and the chairman supported me and took up the matter with the Civil Aviation Ministry. We will pursue it and get it done,” he said.
The director Tourism Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad Shah said the flight termination was unfortunate. “It was a hope for the tourism industry to receive tourists directly from the Middle East. We tried our level best to persuade the customers in the Middle East to visit the Valley, but they want direct connectivity. It is unfortunate that the Air India terminated the flight,” he said.
He said, “It is not only the Srinagar-Dubai flight where the airline is running on losses. If they can’t bear this much loss, then how can the tourism be promoted here.”
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries believe the flight operation was a joke played with the business community of Kashmir. “Our tourism sector promoted the international flight operation in Middle East. But it is unfortunate that the airliner has stopped the flight,” said the KCCI president, Nazir Ahmad.
He said in October 2009 they had apprehended flight suspension and had urged the Prime Minister to halt such a move. “But nothing was done. It may not be a commercially viable venture, but since it is a state-owned aircraft, it should have concentrated more on the bigger cause of tourism promotion in the Valley than finances,” Ahmad said. “And then they didn’t take the Cargo factor into consideration. Cargo could have been included to make it more viable. The business community has been hit severely because of the flight suspension.”
I will look into it: Patel
Srinagar, May 18: The Union Minister for Civil Aviation, Praful Patel, said he would take up the matter with the Air India authorities.
“What I am told is that they have cancelled the fight because there were very few passengers. But I will take up the matter with them again and see what can be done,” Patel told Greater Kashmir.