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Plea for ‘permanent’ London flight

The airline had announced that the flights would operate till October 24 but the date was later extended till March 24
Air India sources said the passenger count on the flights were “not encouraging”

Our Special Correspondent   |   Calcutta   |   Published 14.10.20, 02:21 AM

The state government will request the Centre to make the direct Calcutta-London flight “permanent”, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Tuesday.

“The Calcutta-London flight has just started. But it is still operating twice a week. I request the civil aviation ministry to increase the frequency and make it permanent,” Mamata said at a programme to unveil two open-roof double-decker buses that would take tourists to heritage spots of the city.

Air India is operating twice-a-week flights between Calcutta and London from September. The flights were initially operated under the Vande Bharat programme (launched to bring back Indians stranded abroad during the Covid pandemic) and now as part of an air transport bubble scheme, an understanding between two countries to operate commercial flights.

The airline had announced that the flights would operate till October 24 but the date was later extended till March 24.

“Calcutta is the gateway to the Northeast and also to Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar. There is a lot of pressure (of passengers) to go to Europe. Many people want to go to Europe. So, we want the frequency (of the Calcutta-London flight) to increase,” she said.

Mamata said the previous chief secretary, Rajiva Sinha, had written to the civil aviation ministry on the matter. “I have told the present chief secretary (Alapan Bandyopadhyay) to write another letter,” she said.

“We have heard about a problem. When passengers are boarding the flight from there (London), they are getting Covid tests done, which is taking a long time. So, although there are many seats on the plane, passengers are unable to come,” said Mamata. She said the state government could arrange for rapid tests at the Calcutta airport.

“The planes can be sanitised. We can also arrange for rapid tests. Those who test positive can be sent to safe houses and hospitals,” the chief minister said.

A senior state government official said they were holding talks with Air India. “Officials of Air India have said there are some problems in increasing the frequency and making the flight permanent. But they are trying to find a solution,” said the official.  

Air India sources said the passenger count on the flights were “not encouraging”.

“There is a demand for direct flights to London — from where people can fly to other parts of Europe — at least three times a week, but Air India has to be consistent with its service. Earlier, consistency was a big issue,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India.

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