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Flying Sikh pens penny ride to UK

Mumbai, May 28: Hold your breath. By the end of this year, you could have a low-cost carrier flying you from Calcutta to London, and a return ticket might cost you the same as a two-way full-fare ticket between Calcutta and Mumbai.

As Jet Airways celebrated the first anniversary of its popular Mumbai-Heathrow flight, a little known British aviation company sent a downdraft to rock the wings of many international airline operators by announcing a scheduled point-to-point low-cost airline connecting Heathrow to various cities in India.

Floated by an UK-based Indian Sikh who calls himself Dave Bance, BanceAir is expected to join the competition for passengers travelling from some small towns of India to Britain by the end of June when the first flight takes off.

Although there has been no formal announcement on the sectors that the airline will initially fly to, BanceAir officials said they expected a huge response given the fact that their ticket would be pegged at a price lower than the current competitive ticket prices offered by Jet Airways and others on the Heathrow-bound flights.

The other advantage would be the airline’s plan to connect Heathrow with smaller Indian towns and cities which see a lot of passenger load from Britain. “A lot of British Indians waste a lot of time in reaching their home towns in India. Our idea is to make the journey less tedious by flying only to select destinations,” they said.

Currently, the majority of flights originating from the UK fly to business hubs like Mumbai, New Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai and Bangalore. New metropolises like Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Amritsar have also been added to airline routes. The carrier also plans to have three daily flights to three non-metro destinations in India.

“We are targeting the visiting friends and relatives market in the UK and India. We are projecting a 70 per cent load factor on our flights and we will have only two class configurations ' economy and business,” said Bance, whose airline will fly four leased Boeing 777s.

Available travel industry data reveals that since 1999, there has been a 21 per cent rise in passengers travelling between Britain and India to visit friends and family.

Pegged at '70 million, the Bance group has business interests in manufacturing, real estate and hotel investment, IT and telecommunications, and the film and music industry.

“The ministry of civil aviation has already given us all necessary permissions to fly to two destinations in India, with a third destination still pending,” said a company official.

BanceAir has already obtained a scheduled airline licence from the British Aviation Authority four months back.

“But the permission to fly into third countries is still pending. We could be looking at some other South Asian countries then,” said Bance.

Bance is upbeat. But industry leaders are sceptical. “It may not be so easy since his target sector is an extremely competitive one. It is difficult to gauge how much impact this airline will have since the new air services agreement was signed last year.

“At present, there are almost two dozen airlines operating on the route like Lufthansa, KLM, Air-India, Royal Jordanian, Air France, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Sri Lankan Airlines, British Midland and Turkish Airlines besides Jet and Air Sahara,” said an official of Kingfisher Airlines, which also plans to enter the sector at some point.

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