• Andal airport operator blames AI for ‘unilaterally’ stopping flights

    Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd (BAPL), promoter of the country’s first greenfield private airport at Andal near Durgapur, on Friday accused Air India of step-motherly attitude. BAPL is a joint venture with Singapore-based Changi Airports International.

    AI has withdrawn its thrice-a-week flight on the Kolkata-Durgapur-Delhi sector from June 16, allegedly for non-payment of viability gap funding (VGS) dues. The airport opened in December 2015. On Friday, the national carrier invoked BAPL’s ?2.25-crore bank guarantee.

    BAPL managing director Partha Ghosh termed the AI decision “unilateral”. The airport received the notice on June 16, a day after AI confirmed the decision to media citing “operational reasons”. Even the West Bengal government was in the dark.

    Load factor

    “AI stopped flights to Andal that offered as good a passenger load as their national average, if not better. At the same time, they are operating flights to sectors offering negligible load,” he said.

    According to Ghosh, in February AI operated Delhi-Tirupati flights at 19 per cent load. The Delhi-Kullu load factor was 33 per cent; Delhi-Khajuraho and Delhi-Varanasi 47 per cent each; Mumbai-Guwalior 61 per cent, and Delhi-Rajkot 67 per cent. In comparison, Durgapur offered 73 per cent capacity utilisation.

    Between January and April, the Kolkata-Durgapur-Delhi sector ran at 75.09 per cent load against AI’s national average of 79.05 per cent. Most passengers boarded from Durgapur. The load was not one way and, on many days the flight was full.

    Ghosh said: “Ticket sale maximisation depends on the pricing mechanism. Initially, AI was earning ?11-13 lakh a day against the declared ?22.5 lakh operating cost, for VGF funding. While we have no control over AI’s ticketing operations, we did our best to improve the revenue to ?18 lakh a day.

    “Six months is too short a time for a new route to establish. Due to flight timing, (placed between two direct Kolkata-Delhi flights), there was low traffic from Kolkata. That the flight still attracted a reasonable load proves the potential of Andal airport.”

    High operation cost

    But why was AI not paid the VGF money? BAPL says that while AI raised a demand of ?8.5 crore (?13 crore, according to AI sources), the company sought reconciliation of accounts against airport’s spending on ground handling (on behalf of AI), promotion, cost borne on passengers due to “average three to four hour daily flight delay in January-February”.

    BAPL alleges AI didn’t respond to its plea. “AI services (?22.5 lakh a day) are exorbitantly costly, when compared to private airlines (like GoAir, IndiGo, SpiceJet) proposing to operate flights at ?13.5-14.5 lakh a day. However, due to aircraft availability issues, most such offers were scheduled for later part of 2016,” the private airport said elaborating reasons behind choosing AI.

    AI responds

    An AI spokesperson said that as a national carrier the company is committed to the cause of regional connectivity and is open to discussion with BAPL. On the cost of AI operations, he said the airline is at par with other full-service airlines like Jet. Xavien Howard Womens Jersey

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