Harjap Singh Aujla
In the fall of 2011 the British Midlands International, a small airline from the United Kingdom decided to fly thrice a week between Heathrow Airport in London and Amritsar International Airport in India. The route is great and its potential for growth is tremendous, because more than two hundred thousand Punjabis live in and around London and they mostly hail from the districts surrounding Amritsar. For the poor vegetable and fruit growers in Punjab, this flight became a god sent gift to export their produce to the United Kingdom. I have seen fresh fruits and vegetables from Pakistan selling like hot cakes in the shopping centres of Southall and Hounslow. Every day a plane load of farm fresh vegetables and fruits arrives at Heathrow from Lahore and the consignments are quickly delivered to the retailers in greater London area.
The problem with BMI airline crops up because it does not fly non-stop to Amritsar and flies via Almaty, the largest city of Kazakhstan. Direct flying time between London and Amritsar is less than nine hours, because of the tail winds and between Amritsar and London is nine and a half hours due to head winds. If one plane flies between London and Amritsar in a single hop, it can complete the round-trip in twenty four hours and that is ideal from the angle of profitability. But because of its flight route via an additional stop at Almaty, it completes a two leg one way journey in a little more than twelve hours. That makes it impossible to complete the round-trip in 24 hours. This is the reason why BMI consistently needs much higher occupancy on this route. But BMI is not looking at the possibility of summer time or year round switch over to a smaller jet with a smaller business class.
After completing thirteen months of this service, BMI is planning on pulling out of this route with effect from October 28th 2012. That is exactly the time of the year when traffic to Amritsar from all parts of the world picks up substantially. During the summer season unfortunately the Northern plains of India are experiencing scorching hot temperatures to be conducive for the arrival of fun seeking tourists. On the contrary the months of November, December, January, February and March are cooler and more bearable and tourists arrive in Amritsar in big flocks. Pulling out at the start of the peak season is a bad business decision.
The best alternative for the BMI is to fly non-stop between London and Amritsar and complete the round-trip well within twenty four hours. The aviation fuel may be cheaper in Almaty, but the three additional hours of total travel time tends to put off the potential fliers. The best time to fly from London to Amritsar is 7pm London Time, it will reach Amritsar by 8:30am Indian Time. Leaving Amritsar at 10:30am will arrive in London 3:00pm. That leaves four hours for the cleaning up and maintenance operations. The fruit and vegetable exporters can gain a lot.
In fact Amritsar – London – Amritsar and Amritsar – Birmingham – Amritsar are the ideal routes to operate for Air India too. They can start both flights at 7:00pm Indian Standard Time from Amritsar and reach back from both cities by 3:00pm Indian Standard Time the next day. Both planes can be stationed permanently in Amritsar. Similarly the non-stop flight from Amritsar to Toronto reaches its Pearson Airport destination in fifteen hours. That leaves nine hours for the return flight. The non-stop flight from Toronto to Amritsar reaches Amritsar in fourteen hours that leaves ample ten hours for the return journey. The non-stop flights from Amritsar to Vancouver have not yet started but these flights are likely to take fifteen hours, which leaves nine hours for maintenance, clean up and boarding on Amritsar terminal. The return flight from Vancouver also takes close to fifteen hours, which leaves good nine hours for maintenance, cleaning and re-boarding. Boeing 777s and Boeing 787 planes are ideal for the Amritsar – Toronto – Amritsar and Amritsar – Vancouver – Amritsar routes. Ample passenger load is available for financially viable daily services on these Canadian routes.
But first let us try to save the already operating BMI London – Amritsar flights, by insisting on tickets to Amritsar, instead of flying to already busy Delhi Airport.