Kochi: Six more flights will connect Kerala with Saudi Arabia every week from March 2002. The sector will have 900 seats per week on board six frequencies that will be shared equally by Air-India and Saudia, says Indian civil aviation secretary and Air-India chairman K Roy Paul.
Paul says two of the three proposed flights by Air-India between Thiruvananthapuram and Saudi Arabia will be via Kozhikode, while the third will fly via Kochi.
Air-India will start additional flights from Kochi and Kozhikode to Jeddah and to Damam from Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. These services will begin latest by July this year. In addition, steps are being taken to increase the frequency of flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi to seven a week.
About the possibilities of starting a direct flight to the US, Paul says there aren't enough passengers to fill the flights. ''Several small aircraft, which can seat around 300 passengers, will be acquired during the next fleet acquisition.''
On the Airport Authority of India's (AAI) investment plans in Cochin International Airport (CIAL), he says AAI is willing to invest Rs 50 crore for developing the Nedumbassery airport. But CIAL managing director C Babu Rajeev says another Rs 180 crore is needed to develop the airport.
''The Nedumbassery airport is a toned-down version of its original plan, which could not be executed due to lack of funds. The airport would have been better had there been a cargo village and an air-surveillance radar. The present taxiway is only one-third of the originally proposed one,'' says Rajeev.
There has been a strong demand to float public share issue of the airport and the government is considering the proposal.
Paul says the central government is mooting a common policy for the air-traffic charges in greenfield airports. ''There is also a proposal to start hub-and-spoke operations at the Mumbai airport. Keralites who get recruited in the Gulf through agencies in Mumbai get return tickets only to Mumbai. They have to get customs clearance from Mumbai and take a train or bus to Kerala. Once the hub-and-spoke operations are launched, these travellers can fly to Kerala paying an additional Rs 2,000-2,500.''
The very high tax on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) in Kerala is one reason behind the high airfares. While the tax is 4 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and 20 per cent in Tamil Nadu, it is 40 per cent in Kerala. ''I don't think the state government is making a lot of profit out of this business. Had the tax been low, the fares would have come down,'' says Paul.