According to an airline industry source, while Nagpur airport is not profitable currently, a lot would depend on whether the city is able to generate traffic volumes to sustain a direct international service.

Tunia Cherian George

Mumbai, Oct. 4

NAGPUR will soon become the thirteenth airport in the country to go international, when Air Arabia, the Sharjah-based low-cost airline, begins services to and from the city on October 16.

Nagpur's direct international connection is not unexpected, considering the city's logistical importance as the geographical centre of the country.

Keeping this in view, the Government has proposed upgrading the existing airport as an international passenger and cargo hub.

Mr Rohit Ramachandran, India Manager, Air Arabia, is confident that the airline's proposed service would be well received and the airline has targeted a load factor of more than 80 per cent in the first six-eight weeks of launch.

Happy with facilities: As for the facilities available at the airport, the feedback is positive. Said Mr Ramachandran: "Our chief pilot was here recently and was happy with the facilities. The airport has a long runway (10,500-feet) and a well-kept terminal building."

According to an official from the Airports Authority of India, the airport would set up customs and immigration counters to cater to the international operation. He added the terminal building would be renovated in a year's time to provide an extra arrival lounge for international services.

Secondary airports: Secondary airports such as those in Pune and Nashik have also been in the news recently for their potential to decongest a busy airport such as Mumbai. In fact, the Government has urged airlines to develop secondary airports as hubs and has even offered them sops, such as lower parking fees, to fly to these smaller, less congested centres.

Currently, seven scheduled flights arrive and take off from Nagpur and the airport handles 600-700 passengers each day.

According to an airline industry source, while Nagpur airport is not profitable currently, a lot would depend on whether the city is able to generate traffic volumes to sustain a direct international service.

Air Arabia's market: Air Arabia hopes to tap a large market comprising Nagpur, the Vidarbha region, Bhopal, Indore, and northern Andhra Pradesh, which are not well connected internationally. A large number of expatriate workers are from the Vidarbha region.

Besides, the airline hopes to promote tourist traffic from Nagpur and its surrounding area to cities such as Dubai. It also expects to carry labourers from Chhattisgarh and north Andhra Pradesh. For example, Mr Ramachandran says, stone workers from Cudappah in Andhra Pradesh would benefit from a direct service to the Gulf. Currently, many of these workers travel to Mumbai to take international flights.

High demand: "The demand for our service from Mumbai has been overwhelming. We have averaged a load factor of 95 per cent on this sector since we commenced operations six months ago. The service from Nagpur would provide a direct international connection to and from the interiors of the country," Mr Ramachandran said.

As an airline owned by the Sharjah Government, Air Arabia also offers passengers visa services at nominal costs. Passengers could hope to get two-month visit visas for just Rs 2,200 with a waiting period of three days, he said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 5, 2005)
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