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SARS shrinks summer rush
- Airlines suffer 40 to 50 per cent drop in Far East holiday-makers

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) appears to have taken its toll on the summer-holiday rush to Bangkok and Singapore from Calcutta this year.

In the previous years, the period between the middle of April and May witnessed a heavy rush of passengers. As schools and colleges closed for summer holidays, tourists flew to Bangkok and Singapore from Calcutta. From there, they proceeded to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Tokyo and other destinations.

Airlines could not meet the heavy demand for tickets. But this year, enough seats are available. Airlines are generally reluctant to reveal the passenger figures relating to summer holidays. But, according to a reliable source, the airlines have suffered an average drop of 40-50 per cent in bookings this year.

India Government tourism department sources said the number of passengers to Singapore and Bangkok this May had dropped by 40 per cent, compared with the figure of May 2002.

Last May, 1,293 passengers had flown to Singapore and 334 to Bangkok. But this May, there was a sharp drop in numbers.

A senior manager of Thai International Airways, however, said the drop has just started stabilising, with the effects of SARS seemingly petering out. “Passengers are flying again,” the manager said.

Indian Airlines (IA) general manager Ashoke Gulani said there was no dearth of passengers to Bangkok, but he admitted that the number had decreased. “There was not much demand,” he said. IA services the Calcutta-Bangkok-Calcutta route with Airbus 320s, that guzzle 16,000 litres of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) per flight.

Payment for fuel is made in dollars. For 1,000 litres of ATF, each airline has to pay $456.09, equivalent to about Rs 22,804.50 in Indian currency. The airlines carry more cargo and, thus, they break even.

In the domestic sector, ATF costs Rs 26,794.81 per 1,000 litres. Foreign operators pay Rs 4 less per litre.

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