Flights from steel city by December
Jamshedpur: Private operator Air Deccan will start regular flight services between Jamshedpur and Calcutta from the last week of December, the commercial viability of the operation this time hinging on the government's scheme of subsiding airlines for flying in an out of hitherto unused airports.
"We have got a 20-seater plane on lease from South Africa. We had expected to start the services in November, but due to things beyond our control we could not. Now, hope to start the service anytime between December 26 and December 31," said Captain Madhu K Valsaraj, the president and chief pilot of Deccan Charters, a subsidiary of Air Deccan.
Valsraj said they have held talks with Tata Steel aviation unit officials - Sonari Airport is owned by Tata Steel - and that the airport papers had also been submitted to DGCA. "We expect all formalities to be cleared in the next two weeks," he said.
Flight services were introduced in the steel city for the first time in 2007. It was Air Deccan then too, starting ATR flights to Calcutta. But, the service was stopped after the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) imposed load restrictions on the flight owing to the short runway of the Sonari airport.
Other operators came in, but none could sustain the service due to lack of commercial viability. By 2013, there were no flights operating out of Jamshedpur except for the ones used by Tata Steel purely for company staff.
But this time expectations are high that the service would sustain itself primarily because of the Centre's intervention.
Under the UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) scheme, the Centre will be subsidising losses incurred by airlines flying out of dormant airports. Passengers won't be charged more than Rs 2,500 for an hour's flight. Around 80 per cent of the subsidy is to be collected by charging a levy of up to Rs 8,500 on each departing flight of a domestic airlines. The remaining 20 per cent will come from respective state governments.
Regional connectivity scheme executive director Ganesh Kumar Chaukiyal said the government's support this time through UDAN was the differentiator.
"There is immense government support in the form of lower taxes and viability gap funding. The government's cost sop will ensure loss-free operations unless the traffic demand is very low. This apart, the selected operator will enjoy a three-year exclusivity period without any competitive pressures to worry about. Aviation turbine fuel tax rates have been reduced in collaboration with states and there are no airport charges," said Chaukiyal, who is a board member (operations) of Airport Authority of India (AAI).
Jamshedpur residents are upbeat.
"Resuming flight connectivity would give the much needed impetus to the Kolhan region as more and more industrialists will now start visiting the area to set up their footprint," said president of Adityapur Small Industries Association (ASIA) Inder Agarwal, who claimed he was among the regular users of air services till they were stopped in 2013.
Sunil Verghese of XLRI said they had been eagerly awaiting for air connectivity since last few years. "It will not only brighten the campus placement scenario but also provide opportunity for international experts to visit our campus more often," said the B-school chief brand and sustainability officer.