Ludhiana, December 1
The lone flight between Ludhiana and Delhi had operated for less than a month in the past three months ever since it took off with much fanfare, the official records have revealed.
Airport belies carrier’s claim
The authorities at the Sahnewal domestic airport have belied the claim of “bad weather” made by the carrier as a main reason for irregular flight operations. The officials, however, have attributed the non-operation of flights mostly to, “Cancelled by carrier due to own reasons”.
Taking a serious note of the matter, the Union Government has pulled up the private carrier, who was awarded the daily flight under the RCS – UDAN 4.2 round of bidding in September.
The action was taken after Rajya Sabha MP from Ludhiana Sanjeev Arora took up the issue of erratic flight operations with Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M Scindia.
With the flight not operating continuously for the past nine days, daily fliers are irked and have been left high and dry.
However, the private carrier, Big Charter Private Limited, which runs the FlyBig airlines, has attributed the irregular flight operations to bad weather.
“If the authorities concerned fail to provide alternative arrangements for operating the flight in the absence of poor visibility at the Sahnewal domestic airport, we will be constrained to suspend the flight operations for at least the winter season,” FlyBig Managing Director (MD) Sanjay Mandavia told The Tribune over phone on Friday.
Responding swiftly to Arora’s communication, Scindia told the Rajya Sabha MP that the private carrier, which was awarded the RCS routes connecting Delhi with Ludhiana under UDAN 4.2 round of bidding in September, has attributed the irregular flights between Delhi and Ludhiana to various factors such as technical, crew constraints and weather.
“In this regard, I would like to inform you that the matter was taken up with the airlines concerned and it has assured that they would strive to operate the flight in the winter season regularly, depending on the weather,” the Civil Aviation Minister wrote to Arora.
In his letter to Scindia, the Rajya Sabha MP, who had taken the inaugural flight and was the guest of honour at the ceremony, had expressed concern over the irregular flight operations between Delhi and Ludhiana.
“As you are aware, this sector was awarded to Big Charter under the UDAN scheme, which aims to provide affordable and accessible air connectivity to the common man. However, the carrier has been reluctant to regularly fly five times a week as per the schedule,” Arora had said while stating that despite the Centre’s assistance under the scheme, the negligent and unprofessional behaviour on part of the carrier was denting the hopes of passengers flying to and fro Ludhiana and Delhi.
The MP said it was not only causing inconvenience and frustration to the passengers but also affecting the economic and social development of Ludhiana, which was one of the major industrial hubs of the North India.
“Moreover, it was tarnishing the image and reputation of the UDAN scheme, which is a flagship initiative of the Union Government,” he further wrote while urging the Civil Aviation Minister to investigate the matter with seriousness and instruct the carrier to operate flights as per schedule without any further delay.
Arora had also sought action against the carrier for violating terms and conditions of the scheme.
According to the official records, the flight operated for only 28 days since it was launched in September and it remained grounded/ cancelled for the rest of almost two months.
While no flight had operated continuously since November 23, a single flight was operated on November 22 after a continuous gap of one week.
The month-wise data showed that the flight operated for only eight days in November, nine days in October, and 11 days in September.
Local residents, especially industrialists and businessmen, who regularly commute to Delhi, are forced to either travel by road or take flight to Delhi from Mohali following the irregular flight operations from Sahnewal.
Poor visibility: Airlines
Sanjay Mandavia, MD, FlyBig, while citing poor visibility at the Sahnewal domestic airport as the main reason for non-operation of flights, has complained that they were neither allowed to land or take off from the IAF strip at Sahnewal nor at the international airport in Mohali if their flights fail to get requisite visibility for landing and taking off from the Sahnewal airport.
“Not only the passengers but we are also aggrieved over the irregular flight operations,” Mandavia asserted while adding that he had told the Civil Aviation Ministry to provide them alternative arrangements at least during the winter season for operating the flights, otherwise they would be constrained to suspend the operations.
Had resumed after three years
After remaining off air for over three years since August 2020, Ludhiana had returned on the air map with the resumption of a direct flight to and fro Delhi on September 6.
It was only after the Rajya Sabha MP, Sanjeev Arora, had impressed upon the Civil Aviation Ministry that the flight was launched from the Sahnewal domestic airport till the time the upcoming international airport at Halwara near Ludhiana begins operations.
Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Gen VK Singh (retd) had flagged off the inaugural flight from Delhi while Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann had received it at the domestic airport in Sahnewal near Ludhiana.
Punjab bearing 68% fare
After the CM had announced a whopping 68 per cent cut in the fare, the private operator had announced to charge only Rs 999 for one-way journeys between Ludhiana and Delhi for the first three months, instead of the original price of Rs 3,148.To compensate the operator, the state government had announced to bear the viability gap funding (VGF) on all 19 tickets by paying the deficit of Rs 2,149 per ticket to benefit the travellers.
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