The time taken to travel from Mangalore to Kuwait by Air India Express flight did not exceed more than four hours, ‘Shivanashram’ Managing Trustee U C Paulose recollects.
Paulose used to travel to Kuwait frequently to attend fund-raising activities organised by philanthropists for his 400-bed institution for the mentally challenged near Aniyoor in Beltangady taluk.
But now, with the Kuwait-Mangalore-Kozhikhode Air India Express terminating its services and the airline re-routing the service to Kuwait via Kozhikhode (Calicut), thousands of regular passengers from these parts like Paulose have been left in the lurch.
“Now it takes 10 hours, including six hours of waiting at Mumbai international airport, to reach Kuwait,” Paulose sighed and added that by changing two flights, the price of air ticket which was about `11,000 has also doubled.
Another regular traveller Richard Montiero and his wife were pained at the sight of a pregnant woman with young children alighting the aircraft and walking with great difficulty in the sprawling Mumbai terminal to board another aircraft bound for Mangalore.
Air India Express was the only airline that operated flights between Mangalore and Kuwait, servicing thousands of expatriates from Bhatkal to Mangalore, thrice a week.
“Though aircraft operated by Air India Express were worse than city buses, we were even willing to travel standing,” Montiero said. Catholic Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Ivan D’Souza alleged that a lobby of officials created an impression of less traffic at the Mangalore Airport and were involved in the cancellation of direct flight services to Kuwait.
D’Souza justifies his charges pointing out that Mangalore’s quota of 60 seats in the flight was always filled up. However, Kerala’s quota of 100 and odd seats were never filled up.
“Yet it is the passengers from Mangalore who are suffering,” D’Souza expressed regret and added that applications from private airlines like Spice Jet seeking permission to operate direct flights to Gulf countries, are still pending before the Airport Authority of India (AAI).
Cargo Complex Unviable?
The cargo complex set up at an estimated cost of `70 lakh has the potential to earn a monthly revenue of `1 lakh. With Air India Express refusing to lift cargo, only Jet Airways was carrying up to two tonnes of cargo to foreign countries. Thus the monthly revenue of the cargo complex was not exceeding `30,000. This has already given the impression that it is commercially unviable.
Mangalore International Airport’s proposed 1,000 metre runway was in limbo as AAI was unwilling to invest `600 crore on a single airport. “Yet AAI had gone ahead and invested hundreds of crores on the table top airport in Kozhikode,” he alleged.
No Walk-in facility
D’Souza regretted that Mangalore, which has an international airport, does not have a full-fledged passport office. But neighbouring Kerala has four full-fledged passport offices.
The passport seva kendra has ignored demands to implement ‘Walk-in’ facility for emergency requirements. If you apply online now, you will receive an appointment in June, he said.
“If there is no response to our demands within a fortnight, we along with all political parties, KCCI, regular air travellers and other associations will stage a dharna in front of Mangalore Airport,” he warned.
United Association of Karnataka Kuwait Convenor Elias Sanctis, CEO Archie Menezes and Konkan Overseas Welfare Association secretary Jessy Pinto were also present at the press conference.