Amritsar : Amritsar Vikas Manch has reiterated its demand to Air India and Jet Airways for starting non-stop direct international flights from Amritsar. Footfall of international passengers at the Airport has increased by 50% in 2016, in comparison to the corresponding period last year. From Jan to Nov 2016, the number of passengers jumped to 453,012 which was 290,448 in the same period last year. The credit goes to new non-stop international flights launched by Malindo, Scoot, Spicejet from the Airport and continuation of flights by foreign carriers Qatar, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan Airlines. But Air India and Jet Airways has not started any direct flight from Amritsar and continues to connect passengers to international destinations via Delhi. Large number of Punjabis are settled in Europe and North America, but still Airport has no non-stop flights to Europe. A direct flight to Birmingham, London, Frankfurt, Toronto or Vancouver has been a long-standing demand by the Punjabis.
In November 2016, Air India CMD Mr. Ashwani Lohani and other higher officials had announced plans of restoring Amritsar-Birmingham-Toronto flight from Feb 15, 2017. Now, in reply to a letter by Amritsar Vikas Manch patron, Dr. Charanjit Singh Gumtala, Air India General Manager Market Planning Mr. Rajneesh Bagga has cited that Air India is in the process of acquiring new aircrafts in 2017-18 and they will announce the details like station, route and schedule of new flights at the appropriate time. This indicates that there is no plans by Air India to start any international flights from Amritsar. All the recent announcements by politicians including Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal and MP Shwet Mailk about re-routing of Asr-Delhi-Birmingham flight as Delhi-Asr-Birmingham has not been confirmed by Air India. Air India on Jan 16 has announced start of new non-stop international flights between Delhi-Washington in July 2017, Chandigarh-Bangkok and Delhi-Copenhagen in May 2017. Manch Patron said, this clearly shows discrimination by the National carrier to Amritsar Airport and Punjabis. In first week of January 2017, airline also announced the start of flights to Nanded, Mumbai from Amritsar, and Pune from Chandigarh in a fortnight. It has already started all its newly announced domestic flights from Chandigarh, Kolkata and other airports but nothing from Amritsar.
During UPA government, Air India had re-routed Asr-London-Toronto flight via Delhi due to the Air India’s new hub and spoke policy to fly only from Delhi and Mumbai. However in 2015, it has started direct Ahmedabad-London flight and recently announced start of Chandigarh-Bangkok flight in May 2017. Air India has not given any reply to Manch letters asking about this policy still been applicable to Amritsar.
Despite the fact that majority of the passengers travelling on Amritsar-Delhi-Birmingham flights are from Punjab, Air India continues to operate this flight via Delhi. In 2015-16, 49,281 passengers travelled between Birmingham and Amritsar via Delhi. According to estimates, similar number of passengers from Jalandhar and surrounding areas that are settled in large numbers in Birmingham prefer to go by road or train to take the flight from Delhi. Passengers find it very inconvenient to first spend 2-3 hours traveling to Amritsar, and then additional six to either hours in total check in, flying and transit time. If flight departs from Amritsar to Birmingham, they will prefer coming to Amritsar. Due to this, Airport also losses international passenger fees to privately run Delhi Airport. Many passengers also fly on Qatar or Turkmenistan Airlines via Doha and Ashgabat to Birmingham. If Air India makes this flight as Delhi-Asr-Birmingham, it will be able to get many more passengers from other private airlines operating from Amritsar and cut down its losses.
In Nov 2008, due to global recession Jet Airways had cancelled its Amritsar-London flight. Since then, Jet has expanded its international operations to many countries from different parts of India but it continues to ignore start of international flights from Amritsar. Only Spicejet and Air India Express are the two Indian carriers operating international flight to Dubai from Amritsar. In the first 9 months in 2016, 166,501 passengers travelled on these two flights to Dubai with more than 90% load factor in these two airlines. In October 2016, Amritsar was ranked second after London in passenger growth at Dubai airport. Despite the big potential of international passengers from this region, both Air India and Jet continues to ignore Amritsar Airport and provide connections to international destinations via Delhi that adds the inconvenience of time and cost to the passengers.