By: Sameep Singh Gumtala
June 26, 2020: Suspension of international commercial flights by India during lockdown has disclosed the real potential of Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport Amritsar. During suspension of flights in the month of April, the number of passengers flying on the repatriation flights from Amritsar made the airport, third busiest in the country. Many countries operated special charter flights from the Airport to fly its residents back to their home country of residence.
As per the recent traffic report released by Airport Authority of India (AAI) for the month of April 2020, Amritsar recorded a total of 5972 international and domestic passengers leaving behind all major airports in India except Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi was on the top with 20,624 and Mumbai on second with 9051 passengers. A total of 5011 international passengers, also the third highest number among all international airports in the country. Delhi airport recorded 19514 followed by Mumbai with 7956 international passengers. All other major airports in India like Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Kolkata were also not near to the numbers handled by Amritsar.
A complete suspension of flights in late march left thousands of foreign nationals and residents stranded across the country including Punjab. The biggest number UK and Canada residents stranded in India was recorded in Punjab. To repatriate its citizens, their Consulates in India arranged special chartered flights operated by leading airline carriers including British Airways by the UK.
Amritsar handled the biggest number of flights from India to London Heathrow airport by UK and also by the Canadian foreign office to Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to fly back Britons and Canadians. These overseas flights started in April and continued to operate till mid May 2020. According to unofficial estimates, the number of flights from Amritsar by UK and Canada is one of the biggest during the current crisis by these two countries from all over the World.
The demand for direct repatriation flights from Amritsar to UK and Canada was raised by stranded passengers, organizations and leaders with their government. This large number of passengers flying out of Amritsar proves the fact that majority of the international traffic at Delhi airport from UK and Canada comes from Punjab. Punjabis and its diaspora wish to travel directly from Punjab instead of Delhi, if more international flights are started from Amritsar. Airport is within 3 hours reach from all major cities of Punjab. This time to reach the airport will be reduced to half after the completion of Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway.
Amritsar airport handling such a large number of flights, especially by British Airways, has not only proven that it has great potential for direct flights to London Heathrow, Toronto and Vancouver, it also has all the infrastructure to handle traffic even during extreme crisis situation.
This unprecedented repatriation effort would not have been possible without the facilities made available at Airport including the newly built first floor. Also, credit goes to the Airport director Manoj Chansoria, staff members of airport, airlines and the high commission from these countries. Once the crisis ends, we can definitely reach out to airlines from India, UK, Canada and other countries with the request to consider starting flights from London Heathrow, Toronto or Vancouver. We hope that seeing the traffic numbers from Punjab even during the pandemic, airlines will decide to start flights on one or all of these routes.
Sameep Singh Gumtala, is Global Convener of FlyAmritsar Initiative, a public campaign for better flight connectivity with the Holy city of Amritsar. He is a US resident, regularly writes about Punjab, its diaspora and connectivity of Amritsar, Punjab with the World.