New Delhi: India’s airlines are charting new routes to connect neglected, smaller cities that have some tourist or business potential, as the economy brightens and passenger numbers rise.
Airlines saw a spurt in passenger traffic, growing by 5.45% to 39.96 million between January and November, according to the regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The figure for December is not yet available. The number had contracted as much as 4.84% to 42.85 million in 2008.
Kingfisher Airlines Ltd and regional airline Jagson Airlines Ltd are among those planning to harness the potential of smaller airports.
“The bigger airlines have a focus on category I (metro) routes by default, but category II routes like smaller capital cities make a lot of sense,” said Jagson CEO Koustav M. Dhar.
Jagson plans to take to the skies from February with a 88-seater aircraft and subsequently increase its fleet to four by the end of the year. It will connect Srinagar to Leh with a daily flight starting April.
So far, only Air India has a weekly flight between the two cities, an Airports Authority of India (AAI) official at Leh airport said over the phone.
“Those (connecting state capitals and smaller cities) are the sectors to be in and they are consistent all year around at Rs4,000-4,500 (average fare),” said Dhar, comparing the average fare on the Delhi-Mumbai route, which can drop below Rs3,000 due to competition. “(However), if you put 180 seats on category II, they are not viable.”
The AAI official said additional flights will help, but there was a limited potential. “Maximum tourists come from Delhi. Those who are coming from Srinagar are coming by road. The acclimatization is much better, being at a higher altitude, the body gets accustomed to it (by road),” he said on condition of anonymity. “But in the tourist season, it’s (plane seats) all full.”
Jagson will also connect New Delhi to Shimla and Dharamshala, and operate flights to Ranchi and Patna in summer on alternate days.
Kingfisher Airlines, India’s second largest carrier by market share, has started flights between Chennai and the industrial town of Salem in Tamil Nadu, and Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi and Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur recently.
It has also received permission to start services to Uttarakhand’s Pantnagar from New Delhi. Pantnagar, besides being close to several tourist destinations, is also a hub for many factories, including that of auto manufacturer Tata Motors Ltd. Also on the cards are flights to the hosiery and garments hub of Ludhiana in Punjab from New Delhi.
A Kingfisher official said the airline is waiting for regulatory clearances before it can take off to Pantnagar and Ludhiana. “Since these are new airfields, DGCA is still to clear them,” he said. He declined to be named.
National carrier Air India already flies between several small towns in the country.