Airlines sidestep Europe statistic

2 lakh fliers but not enough to fly direct

By Sanjay Mandal
  • Published 18.09.17
The international terminal of Calcutta airport

Sept. 17: Calcutta contributes between 400 and 550 passengers daily to airlines flying to Europe from elsewhere, yet no carrier sees a business opportunity in the statistic.

"We have been studying the market to Europe for more than a year. The volume of passengers is enough to fill at least one flight, but the traffic is not evenly distributed throughout the year. It is mostly seasonal movement of tourists and students," said a senior official of Calcutta airport.

According to the survey, between 1.5 to 2 lakh people fly out of the city annually to other cities and take connecting flights to Europe. The route of choice for most is through Dubai or Doha. Some travel via Delhi or Mumbai and a few through Singapore and other Asian cities.

The state government and the airport authorities have tried to convince several airlines to explore the opportunity of starting a direct flight from Calcutta, but the response every time has been that it is not feasible. "We have the infrastructure to handle direct Europe flights, yet no airline has approached us for this," airport director Atul Dixit told Metro.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had asked the airport director for an update on the initiative to bring a direct flight to Europe on her way to north Bengal on September 11.

According to officials, Mamata, before boarding the flight to Bagdogra, had asked Dixit whether there was "any development". When the airport director said there was none, the chief minister asked whether Jet Airways, whom she had requested to start a direct flight to Europe, had shown "renewed interest".

Jet Airways said it was not yet looking at the possibility. "We have good connectivity to Europe from Delhi and Mumbai and we connect Calcutta passengers to these flights through our strong domestic network," a Jet official said.

Air India, which not long ago had expressed interest in starting a direct flight to London, said there was no such plan at the moment. The airline last week started a flight between Delhi and Copenhagen. For Calcutta, the consolation is an extra Bangkok connection.

"We do not have immediate plans to start a London flight from Calcutta because of operational reasons," an Air India official said.

Industry-starved Bengal does not provide enough business travel to ensure year-long occupancy for an airline. Also, unlike budget tourists or students, business travel is less price-sensitive and ensures that high-yield seats do not go empty.

British Airways and Lufthansa had withdrawn from Calcutta because of the yield factor. Both airlines were getting economy passengers, but not enough business-class travellers.

According to tour operators and officials of various airlines, the travel pattern from Calcutta to Europe and the US is such that the hub-and-spoke model works out best for carriers.

"Calcutta adds to the passenger volume of airlines from their respective hub. Some passengers prefer Delhi or Mumbai because they get a lot of choices and, therefore, cheaper fares. Even if one flight starts operating, the price factor would still take a chunk of these passengers to Delhi and Mumbai," said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of the Travel Agents' Federation of India.