The Telegraph
Wednesday , May 31 , 2017

Class divide tells on Calcutta skies

- Vistara to discontinue flights between city and Bangalore from next month

Calcutta, May 30: Vistara will stop its flights on the Bangalore-Calcutta-Guwahati route from June 16, reflecting the drought of business class traffic between the eastern cities and one of the most popular destinations in the country.

The airline, owned by the Tatas and Singapore Airlines, has reposed faith in Calcutta as a "destination of strategic importance" but analysts pointed out that the discontinuation was another telling sign of the paucity of corporate traffic from and to Calcutta.

The lack of demand for premium seats has been the reason several international airlines had dropped Calcutta from their radar.

Low-cost airlines have found the going smoother in the city, operating all-economy class flights and depending largely on students and patients on their way to educational institutions and healthcare facilities in the south. The nature of the traffic is also a telling comment on some of the problems Bengal has been struggling with for decades.

Techies do travel in and out of the city but such traffic is usually confined to weekends and the holiday seasons.

Vistara, which had started operations from Calcutta a year ago in June 2016 and the Bangalore services later last year, operates two flights on the Bangalore-Calcutta-Guwahati route daily.

The airline was gracious in its statement: "Due to commercial reasons and as part of continual network optimisation, Vistara will discontinue its operations on the Bangalore-Calcutta-Guwahati route, effective June 16, 2017. Flights to Delhi, Port Blair and newly introduced Pune, will continue with no changes, and additional flights and frequencies are expected to be added to Calcutta as the airline grows its fleet. Calcutta remains a destination of strategic importance to Vistara."

Aviation industry sources said that for airlines operating flights from Calcutta, Bangalore is one of the most popular sectors after Delhi and Mumbai.

Calcutta airport officials said 16 daily flights operate between the city and Bangalore. Some felt supply outstrips demand. If so, consider Delhi and Mumbai, from where at least 61 and 47 flights, respectively, serve the Bangalore route daily.

But corporate traffic is the lifeblood for the aviation industry and business-starved Bengal has not too many such fliers.

Officials of several airlines said barely 10 per cent of the business class seats in the full-service airlines are filled daily on average. This means loss of maximum revenue for an airline.

A business class seat costs between Rs 30,000 and Rs 35,000 for a one-way trip to Bangalore. Average one-way economy class fare rules between Rs 5,000 and Rs 6,000. "The revenue from one business class seat is equivalent to that of six to seven economy seats," pointed out an official of a full service airline.

"From Calcutta, mostly students and those going for treatment are the regular fliers to Bangalore. We see corporate traffic movement only in the weekends and holiday seasons when they fly home and again return to work," said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India. "Also, the number of flights now outstrips demand," he said.

Low yield was the reason British Airways had pulled out from the city in 2009. German airline Lufthansa, which was Calcutta's last direct connection to Europe, also withdrew its Frankfurt flight in 2010.

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