Lone European air link snaps - Lufthansa's April 2012 bow-out a blow to Brand Bengal

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By SANJAY MANDAL
  • Published 17.12.11
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Six years after touching down in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Bengal, Lufthansa is set to leave the skies of Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal.

The Frankfurt-headquartered airline, the only European carrier operating out of the city since the exit of British Airways in March 2009, will withdraw its Calcutta-Frankfurt direct flight in April 2012 following a slump in demand.

“Our thrice-weekly direct flight between Calcutta and Frankfurt will be discontinued in summer 2012. With this measure, Lufthansa reacts to changing market demand,” an airline spokesperson told Metro on Friday.

“The business and first classes are not having enough passengers. There is not much profit in Calcutta,” said a source.

Calcutta was Lufthansa Airline’s first stop in south Asia when it started flying from the city for the first time in 1959. The airline has come and gone several times since. Its latest stint began in July 2006 with three-flights-a-week schedule. The frequency was increased to five flights a week in July 2008 only to be reduced to thrice a week three months later.

The exit is being seen as a blow to chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s attempts to woo foreign airlines to start operations from Calcutta and boost Brand Bengal.

“Lufthansa’s decision would mar Bengal’s appeal as a business destination,” said an industry source. “The government’s hands-off land policy is a major hurdle industry is facing. Lufthansa’s exit is a clear indication that industry is not bullish about Bengal,” said a city-based industrialist.

Sources said Lufthansa was flying with an average 80 per cent occupancy but the yield — or profit margins — has been low. The Airbus 330-300 series aircraft the airline operates has 165 seats in the economy class, 48 in the business class and eight in the first class.

“We don’t have enough corporate travels from the city for the airlines to sustain. Unless business grows in Bengal, no airline will find it feasible for long-haul sectors,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east), Travel Agents Federation of India.

The Lufthansa spokesperson said the airline would continue its “sales activities” in Calcutta even after the exit. “As soon as customer demand allows, the airline will bring back direct flights to Europe.”