The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City takes wing, travel soars

The world may not be looking at eastern India for a holiday, but Calcuttans sure are going places. The financial figures of travel out of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport mirror the high-flying ‘eastender’.

Sanjoy Sett, chairman, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), eastern region, made the travel trends official on Friday. From April 1, 2002, to March 31, 2003, the revenue from foreign flights was Rs 380 crore. In just seven months this financial year, from April 1 to October 30, the amount stands at Rs 250 crore.

This, despite decreasing fares. British Airways accounts for 35 per cent, followed by Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways at over 20 per cent each. Sett puts the “healthy growth in the travel industry” down to the “IT and IT-enabled services sector booming in Bengal. IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers are big and others are eyeing Calcutta”.

The number of airlines, domestic and international, increasing, adding to or entering the Calcutta market in the past year is a sign of the good times and an indication of what more is in store.

Gulf Air’s first touchdown is on November 23, with two Calcutta-Muscat-Bahrain flights a week, while British Airways’ third flight, already “almost full”, takes off on December 3. Thai Airways is working on adding a fourth flight to the Calcutta sector, and Malaysian Airlines is in negotiations to come to Calcutta by “early next year”.

Singapore Airlines, from three flights a week with a capacity of 180 on each, currently has two, but with a capacity of 320 per plane. Bangladesh Biman now has daily flights, and has moved up from the 45-seaters to Boeing 737s. Royal Jordanian has increased frequency from one to two flights a week, and Royal Brunei has maintained its two flights, after adding the second a year ago. In addition, Sahara has plans to connect Calcutta with Colombo and the Maldives.

Yet, Air-India has no direct flights out of Calcutta and KLM is pushing for a pullout. “KLM has blocked bookings for the weekly Calcutta-Delhi-Amsterdam flight,” said Sett. “The flight goes virtually empty, but when we try to reserve seats, it says ‘not available’. Also, it’s cheaper to fly to Delhi and then to Amsterdam, than to take the Calcutta flight.” The state tourism department has written to the aviation ministry, asking them to negotiate with KLM officials, said principal secretary R.K. Tripathi.

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