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‘Kuwait-Mangalore-Kochi flight hopefully will be restored’ ‘Cancellation’ tied to expiry of lease

KUWAIT CITY, May 28: Following the cancellation of the Kuwait-Mangalore-Kochi flight, effective Feb 15, 2014, passengers flying this route feel that Air India Express has done them injustice.

They say at a time when most airlines operate extra flights to meet the increasing passenger demand, the national carrier of India has stopped flying certain Air India Express services from Kuwait and other Gulf states and also some domestic flights back home.

The Air India country manager Ajay Sinha, in an interview with the Arab Times sought to clarify the issue of the withdrawal of Kuwait- Mangalore-Kochi and other Air India Express flights saying the main reason was due to the expiry of the lease of some Air India Express aircraft which were operating on those routes. “Due to the above constraint, some of the nonprofit generating routes were withdrawn,” he said.

Sinha called the termination of this Kuwait-Mangalore-Kochi and other flights ‘unfortunate’ but since the management is in the process of leasing more aircraft, he was hopeful the discontinued flights including the Kuwait-Mangalore-Kochi flight will, once again, be restored possibly by year end. He added, the Kuwait Air India office is following up the issue with the management and has strongly recommended that the flight be restored.

Sinha called it an evolving process and the management evaluates which routes are profitable and which are not and if there is a potential for further improvement before flights on certain routes are restored.

The Air India Express still plans to put back the Kuwait-Mangalore- Kochi flight for the simple reason that “We think once connectivity is established people’s anticipation remains deep-rooted and they know that there is a flight which they can rely upon and when it is suddenly taken off, that void needs to be filled.” In this regard a delegation from United Associations of Karnataka Kuwait (UAKK), an umbrella organization of 12 Associations; Kasaragod Expats Association (KEA) and prominent NRIs from Coastal Karnataka in a memorandum had sought the help of Ambassador of India to Kuwait Sunil Jain to restore the regular flight schedules on this sector. Copy of the memorandum was also sent to the then Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ajit Singh.

About rumors that other airlines had stepped in to fill the void created by the termination of Air India Express flights on some routes, he called the process ‘normal’. However, the fact remains that until date no airline has started operation on this route which indicates that other airlines may not have found this route lucrative.

“While it is imperative that the cost of operations must be met, there are instances where Air India has undertaken non-profitable operations in order to fulfill its obligation as national carrier, however private airlines are focused on commercial considerations” he said. Speaking of the complaints by some passengers about baggage being left behind, he said, although this happens very rarely and has happened only about five or six times since his taking office about 20 months ago, these situations occur due to various factors which are beyond the airline’s control.

The main reasons are bad weather en-route or at destination where extra fuel is required to be carried. Sudden rise in temperature also lowers the load carrying capacity of the aircraft and hence requires last minute off-loading of baggage. In order to ensure that offloading situations does not arise, and though it may result in loss of revenue, Air India restricts its booking in summer months, which is why passengers may see empty seats on the flight though they had difficulty in booking seats.

He disclosed, according to the new Air India policy on baggage allowance for Air India Express, which is a LCC (low cost carrier), for outbound passengers will be 20 plus 10 kilos per passenger and on Air India flights, 30 plus 10 kilos per person at all times including peak season for Kuwait which he called the months of June-July and December.

He explained that 20 kilos and 30 kilos respectively are free while for the first additional 10 kilos, passengers will be charged KD 3 which works out to 300 fils per kilo on Air India Express and KD 12 on Air India. Anything over and above this will be charged normal rates which work out to between KD 4 - 5 for a kilo. However, during off season the management may allow 40 plus 10 on outbound Air India flights. He disclosed the Air India is in a process of overhauling its entire fleet.

The airline has bought 27 Dreamliners, more than half of which have already arrived and has also ordered the new generation A320 family of aircraft some of which will be bought and some leased. The Dreamliners has a capacity of 256 passengers - Economy class 238 and First Class 18. After the arrival of these aircraft the airliner plans to introduce better aircraft on Gulf routes including the Kuwait- Goa-Chennai and Kuwait- Ahmadabad-Hyderabad-Chennai flights by December 2014.

By: Paul Francis X. Fernandes Arab Times Staff

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