THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Malayalees’ growing penchant for globetrotting has led to a steady rise in air traffic to various destinations from Kerala. Four international airports bear testimony. But another trend is emerging in the domestic sector — short-distance travel.
While the response earlier had been mixed for flights within the state, connecting the southern and northern parts with Kochi, a substantial increase in the occupancy of daily flights is opening a fresh avenue for airline companies.
And calls are strengthening to follow the hub-and-spoke model envisaged to take passengers to international airports from neighbouring feeder airports or airstrips as part of facilitating overall air connectivity. Officers at the Kochi-headquartered Air India Express — which operates connecting flights between Kozhikode-Kochi-Thiruvananthapuram and overseas destinations — said the Kozhikode -Thiruvananthapuram route, to and fro, has an occupancy rate of around 50-70 per cent. It will be over 50 per cent between Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.
Statistics available with the Union Civil Aviation Ministry also shows a 58 pc average occupancy for the Thiruvananthapuram-Kochi sector on Air India flight (AI 466) with the corresponding figure for Kochi-Thiruvananthapuram sector being 53.1 pc during the period July 2014 to June 2017.
But all these are aircraft models with a seating capacity of 180 passengers. These figures actually bode well for airline operators if they are ready to press small aircraft with a seating capacity ranging from 20 to 100 into service. Stopping them from tapping into regional connectivity, though, is the lack of feeder airports or airstrips.
Doha-based aviation analyst Jacob Philip, who had prepared the pre-feasibility report for the Cochin International Airport in Nedumbassery in 1991, said an airstrip can be developed by acquiring just 100 acres of land.That would include a 4,000 ft runway, air traffic control room and other ancillary buildings, and security area.
“Besides, the state should take over and utilise the Chelari airstrip built by the Birla Group when the Gwalior Rayons factory was set up at Mavoor in Kozhikode for their personal use,” he said.“The government should also explore the possibility of using a portion of the Navy airport in Kochi to hold medium scale domestic operations which will be highly beneficial for tourists and other air passengers,” he said.
If these airports are brought under the UDAN scheme, people can shuttle various cities within the range of Rs 2,500 in less than an hour, said Sasikumar K R, managing director of Kairali Aviation.“Considering the spending power of Malayalees in recent times, it won’t be a big affair for them if they can save a day in terms of travelling time,” he said.
For instance, a train passenger has to shell out around Rs 2,000 for First AC and Rs 1,000 for Second AC train tickets to Thiruvananthapuram from Kasargod. Similarly, a tourist has to spent around Rs 3,300 to get a cab to Munnar from Kochi and Rs 7,000 to Wayanad. If there are shuttle services of small aircraft within the state, they can save a day and considerable amount of money, pointed out travel agencies.
Pressing a 20-seater aircraft or 30 or 42-seater aircraft for small distance operations will not cost the airline operators much. Rather they stand to get sufficient number of passengers once the new traffic culture emerges, experts aver. And these aircraft will come in handy during medical emergencies too.
On the radar for airstrips/heliports
The Transport Department has given permission to hold pre-feasibility study to set up nine airstrips or heliports across the state in the first phase. The locations are Kalpetta, Guruvayur, Palakkad, Munnar, Thekkady, Kumarakom, Alappuzha, Asramam (Kollam) and Varkala.
(to be concluded)