The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Biz class bid for busy skies
- WBIDC leads joint pitch for foreign flights

The business craft to sell Bengal has hit a critical air pocket — how can you possibly woo investors without showing them a direct flight path to their ‘favoured destination’'

With foreign flights to Calcutta few and far between despite a growing demand at ground level, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) is now making a concerted pitch for busier skies over Calcutta.

“We have just nine airlines with 53 international flights from Calcutta every week, besides nine cargo flights. During our hunt for investments in Bengal, this issue is raised repeatedly,” says Atri Bhattacharya, executive director, WBIDC. “It’s a chicken-and-egg problem of fewer flights leading to slower investment inflow and vice-versa, that needs to be addressed immediately,” adds the bureaucrat, who was part of the McKinsey-West Bengal government team that criss-crossed the country scouring for investments.

There is obvious cause for complaint — KLM has dropped out of the Calcutta radar and Lufthansa operates only cargo flights out of the city. Also, for business travellers, the bunching of flights over the weekend leaves them with hardly any flexibility.

But the mood is changing with business travellers from Calcutta demanding more flights and the airlines waking up to the growing demand. With chairman Somnath Chatterjee leading the way, WBIDC has joined hands with various stakeholders of the aviation industry to try and increase air-links with the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. At a meeting earlier this month, the shortcomings at the airport (see box) were discussed in detail.

Present at the brainstorming were Dipankar Mukherjee, MP, Rajya Sabha and chairman of the standing committee on transport, representatives from government agencies, various airlines, tour operators, consulates and chambers of commerce. A report will be prepared on the basis of suggestions from various quarters and taken up by the Bengal government with the Centre. Mukherjee has “promised” to take up issues like uniform air turbine fuel prices and upgradation of facilities at the Calcutta airport in Delhi.

“Connectivity with the West is so poor that people from Calcutta are forced to take international flights from Delhi and Mumbai. If there are sufficient passengers here, why can’t we have more international airlines'” asks Nazeeb Arif, secretary general, Indian Chamber of Commerce.

Both Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines are drawing up plans to increase air-links with Calcutta, says WBIDC. “We want to increase our weekly flights from three to four,” confirms S.C. Kapur, head of sales and marketing, eastern India, Thai Airways.

Air India, too, has recently written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee about operating more flights to Calcutta. “Air India is all for augmenting operations from Calcutta in commercially-viable sectors,” says Subhasish Chowdhuri, manager, Eastern India.

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