Airline flees after 4 flights - Exit, Hong Kong on Hainan

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By SANJAY MANDAL
  • Published 10.10.11
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Chinese carrier Hainan has decided to pull out of Calcutta after just four flights, citing low advance bookings for its biweekly flight to Shenzhen and a free 45-minute coach transfer to holiday hotspot Hong Kong.

Hainan is not the first international airline to exit the city, but a pullout after less than a fortnight in business makes this the shortest stint by any carrier operating here. The last Calcutta-Shenzhen flight is scheduled for October 11, exactly 10 days after the inaugural one.

“Advance bookings have been extremely low, forcing us to suspend services from Calcutta,” Li Li, the general manager of Hainan Airlines in Calcutta told Metro.

So does it mean Calcutta isn’t a long-term market for international airlines despite recent signs of a resurgence?

“Hainan should have waited a few months before taking a call on whether to stay or leave. East India is a late-booking market, which means the bulk of bookings are made seven to 12 days prior to departure,” said a senior official of an international airline operating in the city.

In airline parlance, two types of fliers — VFR (visiting friends and relatives) and FIT (free individual travellers) — make advance bookings to get fare deals. “The number of such travellers to and from Calcutta is 50 per cent less than Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore’s. So we basically bank on late bookings by corporate and group travellers,” the official said.

Calcutta has been logging impressive flying miles in the international sector of late, prompting new entrant Qatar Airways to consider introducing larger aircraft and increasing its flight frequency. SilkAir started its four-days-a-week service to and from Singapore on August 1 and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is set to resume services in the city after 41 years.

For Hainan, morning apparently showed the day. Li Li said bookings for the Calcutta-Shenzhen flights in October were around 10 per cent of the total number of seats. Going by a circular issued by Hainan for travel operators, the decision to withdraw was taken even before the first flight took off.

“Our head office has taken a decision that it will not be commercially viable to operate flights during the off-season…. Hainan Airlines will operate flights to Calcutta only on October 1, 4, 8 and 11 and suspend operations thereafter indefinitely,” the circular states.

According to tour operators, around 20,000 fliers from the city visit Hong Kong every year. “The number would have increased had Hainan stayed put,” said Anil Punjabi, the chairman (east) of the Travel Agents’ Federation of India.