Monday, August 24, 2020

Demand for direct Amritsar-London flight ramps up

London: Lobbyists battling for direct flights between Heathrow and Amritsar have leapt on news that a direct flight will be introduced one day a week under the Vande Bharat Mission starting Monday.
From August 24 till September-end, Air India will operate Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) direct flights once a week between Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport, Amritsar and London Heathrow. When India started Vande Bharat Mission flights on May 6 to bring back Indian citizens, flights to Punjab went via Delhi.
Now, under VBM phase 5/6, flights will leave London at 9.45am on Mondays and reach Amritsar at 10.25pm that evening. Flights will then depart from Amritsar at 2.40pm on Tuesdays and reach Heathrow at 7pm the same day. On the remaining days, passengers will have to travel via Delhi.

“High demand for direct repatriation flights between Punjab and the UK during the lockdown is evidence that a flight between Amritsar and Heathrow is needed permanently,” said Sameep Singh Gumtala, global convener, FlyAmritsar Initiative and overseas secretary of Amritsar Vikas Manch (AVM).

“This is a welcome step that should have been taken earlier. It will save many hours of time for people to reach Punjab,” he said, adding, “We are thankful to civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Air India and request them to continue to operate the flights to Heathrow after resumption of regular international commercial flights to India.”

In April, Amritsar was the third busiest airport and in May, it was the second busiest airport in India handling international traffic.

“Even Delhi, Mumbai and many other metro cities were left behind as the largest number of Britons were stranded in Punjab. If the majority of passengers travelling from Delhi to London are from Punjab, then why can't Air India fly from Amritsar?” Gumtala asked.

His views were echoed by Manmohan Singh Brar, president of AVM, the civil society NGO working for development of Amritsar and Charan Kanwal Singh Sekhon, chairman of the SEVA Trust, UK which have been campaigning for the London Heathrow to Amritsar route since 2018.

“Not only will a Heathrow-Amritsar direct flight attract a large number of Punjabi travellers coming from Canada, USA and Europe due to better connections at Heathrow than Stansted, but it will also attract business class travellers as majority of Punjabi business community lives close to Heathrow, not Stansted,” said Sekhon.

The British government had to arrange 28 repatriation flights from Amritsar to Heathrow between April and May 2020, flying about 8,300 Britons stuck in Punjab back to Britain. At the same time, the Canadian government organised 25 repatriation flights from Amritsar, evacuating around 7,500 Canadians to Toronto and Vancouver.
24/08/20 Naomi Canton/Times of India
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