The Cessna, which ferried a lone passenger from Patna to Jamshedpur via Ranchi, after it touched down at Sonari airport on Thursday evening. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Publicity poser or pocket pinch — whatever be the reason Jharkhand’s twin cities of Ranchi and Jamshedpur are giving the joint thumbs down to fledgling flight services.
Spirit Air Private Limited, a non-scheduled airline with operational bases in Bangalore and Calcutta, launched its Ranchi-Patna, Ranchi-Jamshedpur and Jamshedpur-Calcutta maiden shuttles from Thursday only to be thoroughly disappointed.
The first flight from the state capital to the Bihar capital took off at 11.55am without a single passenger. When the nine-seater Cessna 208B Grand Caravan left Patna at 2.15pm, it had no takers either.
Vishal Verma, airport executive (security) of Spirit Air, confirmed that the first day had drawn a blank in terms of passenger and revenue. “We have just started our services and without much publicity. Once people come to know of our services, we will have passengers on board too,” he played the optimist.
However, Partha Das — an analyst with Mumbai-based MaRS Monitoring and Research Systems — pointed out that ticket prices were probably the deterrent.
While the one-way airfare between Ranchi and Patna is Rs 3,499, the same between Ranchi and Jamshedpur is Rs 2,999.
“The good thing about flights is that they save time, especially when road communication between Ranchi and Jamshedpur is pathetic. A distance (135km approximately) that can be covered in a little over two hours takes more than four hours because of bad roads. But, the airfare is on the higher side. Had both-way tickets cost around Rs 4,000, many would have preferred flying,” Das said.
Air shuttles also suffer competition from train and bus services. A chair car reservation in the intercity express costs only Rs 305, an AC bus seat Rs 200 and non-AC bus berth Rs 120. Even a private car, if hired, charges around Rs 2,000.
Jamshedpur, which got its pair of wings to Ranchi and Patna, too gave tepid response on debut day. The service that resumed after almost a year saw only three passengers in the morning flight to Patna via Ranchi and just one on board the evening return flight.
“We re-launched the air shuttle based on feedback from the business community and corporate groups in Jamshedpur, Ranchi and Patna. We are not disheartened yet. Bookings will pick up pace soon. We are in talks with the SCCI and FJCCI for awareness campaigns,” manager (Calcutta) of Bangalore-based DTDS Travel and Tour Planner Limited Shyamal Chakraborty said.
He added: “We are eyeing the Chhath rush in the first week of November. During this time, railway and bus tickets are hardly available. The air route can be a viable alternative. The bad condition of NH-33 may also work in our favour.”
Mango businessman Sandeep Choudhary, who was on the first Cessna flight from Jamshedpur to Patna on Thursday, said the journey was pleasant, but weighed heavy on the wallet.
“The timing of the shuttle is such that you can get connecting flights to major destinations across the country from either Ranchi or Patna. But, the airline authorities can consider slashing the one-way fare from Rs 4,999 to Rs 4,000 for better response,” he added.