International routes have opened up and Covid restrictions have been eased, but neither the number of flights nor the passenger count from Kolkata has gone up, officials said.
The restrictions imposed on international flights out of India during the pandemic were withdrawn on March 27. More than a fortnight later, there has not been much increase in the number of international flights or passengers.
According to the data available with the authorities, between March 20 and 26, the last seven days of the restrictions, 59 international flights took off from Kolkata with 7,536 passengers and 57 flights arrived with 7,118 passengers.
On the first seven days after the restrictions were withdrawn, between March 27 and April 2, 77 international flights took off from Kolkata with 11,268 passengers and 76 arrived with 10,663 passengers.
The numbers have not improved since. On Thursday, there were 12 international departures with 1,660 passengers and 11 arrivals with 1,254 passengers.
“Belying our expectations, the number of international passengers out of Kolkata has not gone up since March 27. During this long weekend we had expected more passengers to travel to shorter international destinations but that, too, did not happen. This may be because there are still some Covid restrictions in some countries,” said C. Pattabhi, director, Kolkata airport.
“There could be a few more international flights coming in the next few months but still no direct connections to Europe, the US or Australia yet.”
The Telegraph has highlighted a number of times that Kolkata does not have direct flights to those countries. Airlines such as British Airways and Lufthansa had withdrawn several years ago because of low yields.
Officials of international airlines said Kolkata still did not have enough corporate passengers for a flight to Europe or the US to sustain. They also pointed at the lack of enough initiative by the Airports Authority of India to attract airlines to Kolkata by offering benefits like lower operational charges.
Chennai, where the airport is run by the central government, like the one in Kolkata, has to compete with the privately operated Bangalore airport.
“The number of passengers in Chennai has decreased and is now fewer than Kolkata. Many passengers prefer the Bangalore airport because of the comfort and better facilities there, especially for international fliers,” said an AAI official.
However, Chennai is way ahead of Kolkata in terms of connectivity. The airport still has British Airways flying to London and Lufthansa to Frankfurt, said an official.
The Bangalore airport, too, is thriving with international connections.
“Despite restrictions on international operations during the pandemic, additional long-haul flights remained one of the focus areas, given the fact that the Bangalore airport offers one of the highest international yields,” said a spokesperson for the airport.
In sharp contrast, the Kolkata airport’s international area wears almost a deserted look.
The passenger count at the city airport had dropped from over 3 million in 2019-20 to around 1.5 million in 2020-21. However, it went up to more than 1.7 million in 2021-22, said an official.
“Passenger traffic is increasing and has reached 70 per cent of the pre-Covid volume. It is expected to increase more with the resumption of international flights,” said an official at the airport.