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City flies Etihad to high-flier map

Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, will start flying from Calcutta from February 15 next year, becoming the first major airline to start operations from the city since the airport’s new terminal was opened last year.

“We are confident that the new service, our first to north-eastern India, will boost travel and trade between the UAE and India, further strengthening our presence in India, and connect key strategic cities with Abu Dhabi,” said James Hogan, president and chief executive officer of Etihad Airways, on Thursday.

The airways will fly an A320 aircraft on its Abu Dhabi-Calcutta-Abu Dhabi route. The Airbus jet can carry 136 passengers with 16 seats in business class and 120 in economy, offering a total of 1,904 seats a week. Airline officials said the flight would reach Calcutta at 4.35pm and take off for Abu Dhabi at 7.45pm.

In April 2013, Etihad and Jet Airways had announced a strategic alliance that involves the Abu Dhabi-based airline buying 24 per cent stake in the Indian carrier. It now covers 11 cities in India, including Jaipur and Kozhikode.

Etihad is the first major airline to launch operations from Calcutta after German carrier Lufthansa had withdrawn from the city in March 2012 citing low yield.

Dragonair, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, and SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, started services to Hong Kong and Singapore in 2012.

“Etihad coming to Calcutta will definitely boost the region’s aviation sector. It has good onward connectivity from Abu Dhabi. Other major airlines with direct connectivity to Europe and the US will not be interested till there are enough corporate travellers to make their operations viable,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India.

British Airways, Lufthansa and other international airlines have withdrawn from Calcutta because of low business class occupancy.

In May 2013, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had convened a meeting of airlines to woo international carriers to the city.

However, Lufthansa, British Airways and Dutch carrier KLM had skipped the meet and no other major airline has made any noteworthy proposal before Etihad’s announcement on Thursday.

Flydubai and Turkish Airlines have been in touch with the Calcutta airport authorities.

“Both are communicating with us but Turkish Airlines has yet to get the flying rights to start operations from Calcutta,” airport director B.P. Sharma said.

Business travel is the primary source of revenue for airlines and ensures yearlong traffic volume. Leisure and education travels are seasonal, according to aviation industry sources.