Gaya, Aug. 28: Haj pilgrims from Bihar would now be able to fly directly to Medina.
Air India will operate the Haj flights to Medina from Gaya International Airport for 20 days, from September 17 to October 6. The return flights from Jeddah airport will be operated from November 1 to 20. Earlier, they travelled to Medina and returned from Jeddah via Calcutta.
Against the quota of 10,000 pilgrims from Bihar, 6,000 would go to Medina. Two flights to and from Gaya airport will carry around 160 pilgrims each day. Bihar State Haj Committee chairperson Anisur Rahman Qasmi told The Telegraph that the pilgrims from Patna would arrive in Gaya in air-conditioned buses.
This is the third year after 2003 and 2004 when flights for Haj will be operated from the Gaya airport. The pilgrims had then travelled to Calcutta to take the Haj flights.
The direct flight to Medina and from Jeddah this year will save the pilgrims from Bihar around 14 hours. It took the pilgrims around 20 to 22 hours to reach Medina via Calcutta.
State minority welfare minister Shahid Ali Khan, however, expressed dissatisfaction with Air India. He said: Had they operated big aircraft from the Gaya airport to Medina, it would have been a different matter. But they are operating aircraft with a capacity of around 150 seats. If they can do it from Gaya, then why not from Patna? After all, the Haj pilgrims have to come to Patna for their passport and air tickets.
I am raising this matter with the authorities concerned for a solution, he said.
The state Haj committee is not too happy with the flight timings from Gaya 7.30am and 9.30am as pilgrims reaching from Patna would have to leave late at night. Qasmi said: I have requested the central Haj committee chairperson, Mohsina Kidwai, for a change in the timings. I have also written to the civil aviation ministry and Air India officials in this regard. The departure should be after 12noon.
It takes around three hours to reach Gaya from Patna. Another three hours would be required for check-in and immigration at the Gaya airport.