Thursday, February 13, 2020

Expats elated over resumption of Air India service to Calicut from Sunday

Jeddah: Hundreds of thousands of Indian workers from the southern state of Kerala living in the western region of Saudi Arabia are delighted over the realization of their long-time demand for the resumption of direct flights of Air India, the national carrier, between Jeddah and Calicut. The flights will resume after a hiatus of nearly five years.

The Jumbo aircraft 747-400 with the capacity of 423 passengers will leave King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah at 11.15 p.m. on Sunday and will land at Calicut International Airport in Karipur on Monday morning. Hundreds of local people, led by K.M. Basheer, president of the Calicut-based Malabar Development Forum (MDF), will accord a rousing reception to the flight and the passengers.

Around two million Gulf expatriates from the northern Malabar region of Kerala use Calicut airport, which was the seventh busiest airport in India in terms of passenger traffic and is often touted as the gateway to Malabar. The airport was closed for wide-bodied aircraft since May 2015 for repair and recarpeting of the runway, forcing Air India, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Emirates to divert their flights to Kochi, 155 km away.

Air India and Saudia operated direct flights, using wide-bodied aircraft, between Jeddah and Calicut. Air India later started operating a connection service to Calicut via Mumbai.

The suspension of wide-bodied aircraft has affected hundreds of thousands of expatriates and their families living in the Gulf, especially in the western region of Saudi Arabia. The Airports Authority of India (AAI), which operates the airport, had undertaken a Rs1 billion overhaul of the extensively damaged tabletop runway.

After a long interval of 18 months, the airport was opened for round-the-clock service by the end of 2016 with a revised runway schedule, but services of large aircraft remained suspended. Among the airlines, Saudia grabbed the first opportunity to resume direct flight in December 2018 after the authorities gave the green signal following agitations and a legal battle to save the airport by the MDF and a number of mass organizations based in Kerala and their affiliated bodies in the Gulf.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, R. Prabu Chandran, manager of Air India, western region of Saudi Arabia, expressed happiness over the decision to resume operation of the Jeddah-Calicut service.
13/02/20 Hassan Cheruppa/Saudi Gazette
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