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Northeast air link with Kathmandu on radar

Guwahati/Shillong, Oct. 2: Unperturbed by the sight of empty seats on the much-hyped weekly Air-India flights between Guwahati and Bangkok, the Centre is planning to link the Northeast with Kathmandu by air.

The civil aviation ministry’s proposal for introduction of flights between Bagdogra and Kathmandu by December includes links with some northeastern states. At present, Bagdogra is connected to three cities — Calcutta, Delhi and Guwahati.

Senior officials of the civil aviation ministry said the Centre intended to introduce several international flights between the south Asian countries and the Northeast to boost tourism.

However, the weekly Guwahati-Bangkok flight, introduced in April, has yet to attract the minimum number of passengers required to make it a viable venture. An Air-India official based in Guwahati admitted that the response had not been good. “We were expecting over 40 passengers to board each flight to Bangkok, but the figure has been hovering between 25 and 30,” he said.

Air-India’s public relations director Jitender Bhargava is scheduled to visit Guwahati for an interactive session with passengers and travel operators on October 10.

Speculation is rife about the Guwahati-Bangkok flight being grounded for “commercial reasons”, but Air-India discounted such a move.

“We will continue operating. The flight cancellations earlier were for technical reasons,” an official said.

The official, however, disclosed a review committee would be constituted if the situation did not improve within a year. He said a minimum of one year was required for Air-India to make headway in commercial terms. “Air links between Guwahati and Imphal, Dimapur and Aizawl have improved. The majority of prospective travellers to international destinations are from these areas and we hope to attract their attention soon.”

Tour operators are of the view that flights between Guwahati and Kathmandu will be more commercially viable because the number of travellers from eastern India to the Himalayan kingdom has always been high. The inflow of tourists to Sikkim, Darjeeling, Bhutan and parts of Assam and Meghalaya could increase once Air-India starts operating flights between Bagdogra and Nepal.

Sikkim is already a popular tourist destination. So is Shillong, known as the “Scotland of the East”, and the Kaziranga National Park of Assam.

In Meghalaya, the Umroi airport is being renovated for resumption of direct flights to Calcutta. Tour operators based in Shillong said introduction of air links with Kathmandu via Bagdogra could bring over 5,00,000 tourists to Assam and Meghalaya every year.

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