Covid: Cathay Pacific withdraws flights from Calcutta
Cathay Pacific on Monday decided to withdraw its flights from Calcutta, the first big international airline to do so since the onset of the Covid pandemic.
Cathay Dragon, the wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hong Kong-headquartered Cathay Pacific, used to operate flights between Calcutta and Hong Kong till early March 2020. The airline then suspended operations because of the Covid-related lockdown.
Sources said the contracts of the Calcutta-based employees of the airline had been terminated. However, a spokesperson for the airline could not confirm it on Monday.
“The Cathay Pacific Group has announced the suspension of its Kolkata route that was operating since November 2012. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on the aviation industry and our business,” the spokesperson said.
“The group was operating five flights a week from Calcutta pre-March 2020 and has permanently suspended all international passenger commercial operations from Calcutta with immediate effect due to commercial reasons,” the spokesperson said.
“However, Cathay Pacific Cargo continues to operate cargo services as per the market demand. The Group will remain agile and continue to look for opportunities to serve this route as we can, when the travel market recovers.”
Calcutta is the only city in India from where Cathay has formally withdrawn. It has presence in four other cities in the country, though fights are suspended now because of the pandemic.
Many passengers from Calcutta used to fly on Cathay Dragon to Hong Kong and from there to the US, Japan and Australia.
“In October 2020, the Cathay Pacific Group had announced the need to create more focussed, efficient and competitive business by harnessing our strengths and a corporate restructuring ceasing Cathay Dragon’s operations,” an official of the airline wrote in a mail to tour operators of Calcutta on Monday while informing them about the decision.
In October 2020, the airline had announced that as part of restructuring, Cathay Dragon ceased to operate.
The aviation industry has been severely hit by the Covid pandemic as travel across the world has become restricted.
In Calcutta, the number of flights has dipped sharply. In the pre-pandemic days, the city would have more than 500 flights operating daily, carrying more than 60,000 passengers on an average.
The number dropped sharply last year following the onset of the pandemic but rose again to around 300 flights and 45,000 passengers daily in February and March this year, said an official at the airport.
This week, the number of daily flights has come down to 134, with only seven international flights flying in and out of the airport. The daily passenger count has come down to 20,000.
“The pandemic has forced many tour operators in Calcutta to close their offices, leading to hundreds losing their jobs. Now with airlines starting to withdraw, the chances of bouncing back when the situation becomes normal are slim. Many airlines, including those operating in southeast Asia, are uncertain about continuing their operations,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India.
He said many airlines have been unable to pay their dues to tour operators.