Tier II cities are seeing a revival in international air connectivity with the growth in trade and tourism.

Amritsar will see return of AirAsia X airline from Kuala Lumpur in September. The airport will also have a third Italian destination in winter with Neos Air planning one weekly flight from Verona in November. At present Neos Air flies two weekly flights from Amritsar to Milan and Rome with onward connection to US and Canada.

Varanasi too is set to receive a new service from Thailand with Nok Air planning service from Bangkok in November.

“Sri Lankan Airlines too has evinced interest to resume service to Varanasi. Both Bangkok and Colombo were connected to Varanasi prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and introduction of these new flights will boost the Buddhist tourism circuit. It will make it easier for people from Eastern Uttar Pradesh to travel overseas,” said Aryama Sanyal, airport director, Varanasi.

The introduction of new flights comes ahead of peak travel season aiding both outbound traffic and foreign tourist arrivals. Tour operator Thomas Cook has seen 15-40 per cent growth in outbound business and leisure travel from tier II cities.

“Our business travel data reflects strong uptick to international destinations like Dubai, Doha, Singapore and Thailand,” said Indiver Rastogi, president of Thomas Cook India and SOTC Travel.

Scheduled international flights resumed in March 2022 with easing of Covid-19 restrictions. Air connectivity has been restored to almost countries except China, Spain and Sweden. IndiGo will start service between Mumbai and Jakarta in August.

On a pan-India basis, international air traffic rose 35 per cent on a year on year basis with airports handling 16.2 million passengers in April-June quarter.

Among the tier II cities Varanasi and Amritsar airports reported 15 per cent and 26 per cent growth respectively in the same period. Guwahati and Surat reported nearly 90 per cent international passenger growth albeit on a small base. Bhubaneswar is seeing a big jump in traffic with launch of flights to Bangkok, Dubai and Singapore in May and June under Odisha government’s international connectivity scheme. The state government committed Rs 100 crore towards viability gap funding in the current budget and the subsidised air tickets are finding good traction.

Adani-group airports have also witnessed growth in international traffic in April-June period except Lucknow which saw a 3 per cent decline.

With surge in traffic, airports and airlines are gearing to expand their connections.

“Prior to pandemic Jaipur was connected to five destinations and now we are connected to four. We are hoping for resumption of flight to Kuala Lumpur and increase in flights to Bangkok. As a tourist destination Jaipur is attracting international charter flights too. This season we have received charter flights from Italy, Oman, Philippines, UK and other countries,” said an official from Jaipur International Airport.

Among international carriers, Malaysia Airlines has chalked out its growth plans.

“India is a priority market for us. We have 55 flights to India per week and we operate to six destinations at present. We will increase it to 60 flights by end of CY 2023. We are also looking to add new flights to Trichy and Thiruvanathaputaram, “ said Lau Yin May, Malaysia Airlines’s group chief marketing and customer experience officer.

She added that passenger loads on their India flights is upwards of 90 per cent contributed by leisure and visiting friends and relatives segment.