At a time when most international airlines are pulling out of Calcutta, Indian Airlines (IA) on Thursday indicated that it had drawn up plans to operate more flights to and from the city.
IA officials said the national carrier is trying very hard to introduce a flight on the Calcutta-Hong Kong route. “Market survey suggests that it will be profitable,” officials said.
Sunil Arora, chairman-cum-managing director, said the airline was “extremely keen” on developing the South-east Asian market, for which Calcutta could play an important role. “We want to introduce more international flights from Calcutta. Talks are already underway at a senior level to introduce more international flights from the city to various destinations in South-east Asia.”
IA’s long-term plans are expected to “lift the spirits” of the state government, which was lobbying with the Centre for more flights, ever since the KLM pulled out from the country some time ago. It has also decided to run more flights in the domestic circuit, using Calcutta as a base for its eastern region operations.
With the introduction of more flights to Bangkok and Kathmandu from Gaya and Bagdogra, respectively, air traffic in Calcutta would also get a major boost, said Arora, who was in the city on Thursday.
Arora, also joint secretary in the ministry of civil aviation, added that with the ministry agreeing to introduce more ATR 42-320 flights (small aircraft) in the Northeast, Calcutta would turn into a major hub of activities.
Aviation experts feel IA’s decision to increase flight operations from Calcutta will also give a boost to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport.
The airline has decided to increase its operations to Dimapur, Aizawl and Silchar from Calcutta and also introduce a flight to Shillong.
“With a base like Calcutta, IA has been able to integrate its operations to the northeast along with its other domestic and international operations. This has also provided us optimal connectivity between the northeast and the rest of the country,” said Arora.
Admitting huge losses in air traffic after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, Arora said that the airline was gearing up to counter difficult times, but needed active support from the government by way of a slash in sales tax on Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) and lowering its rates.
Officials recently took up the matter with the government, explaining that while international flights of foreign airlines operate without any sales tax on ATF, IA and Air-India have to pay an average sales tax of 25 per cent for foreign flights, causing large operational losses to the domestic airlines.
“IA could have saved nearly Rs 40 crore annually, if there was no sales tax on ATF for its international flights,” Arora said.
The prices of ATF has also significantly gone up, from Rs 600 per kilolitre in 1971 to a staggering Rs 19,000 by 2001, which has added Rs 231 crore to the operating cost of domestic and international flights of IA during 2000-2001.
“In order to compete with the best in the world, IA has elaborate plans, but it also needs a lot of support from the respective state governments, which can improve its infrastructure and play a more pro-active role to boost traffic,” added managing director, Alliance Air, Manek Paes.