By: Sameep Singh Gumtala
Qatar Airways completed 11 years serving Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport Amritsar on 12 Oct 2020. Currently, due to the suspension of regular scheduled international flights by India, the airline is operating limited flights to Amritsar and other airports in India under the new temporary air bubble agreements between the two countries. We look back at the past on when the airline started its operation, total yearly passengers and their major destinations and future of the airline serving Amritsar.
Inaugural Flight to Amritsar
Qatar Airways began its operations to Amritsar 12 Oct 2009 when its Airbus A320 aircraft took off from its hub at Hamad International airport in Doha and landed for the first time at Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport Amritsar. The arrival of first flight QR#298 at Amritsar received a great welcome ahead of the festive Diwali celebrations on 17 Oct 2009.
At the inauguration, the airline in a press release in 2009 had said, “The inaugural flight to SGRDJI Airport on the outskirts of Amritsar was packed with passengers heading to the city to celebrate the annual festival. The colorful city of Amritsar is home to the famous Golden Temple, the holy place of worship for the Sikh religion – a site that draws more visitors annually than India’s renowned Taj Mahal.”
Savior for Amritsar Airport International Connectivity
In the year 2008, due to global recession many leading airlines including Singapore Air & Jet airways had suspended its international operations from Amritsar. The start of this flight proved to be a savior for the airport’s international connectivity. A year later in Oct 2010, Air India also shifted its popular Amritsar-London-Toronto flights via Delhi airport. This was done due to the new policy by airline to operate all International flights only from its two main hubs at Delhi and Mumbai. Due to this, Amritsar became highly underserved by International airlines. Qatar airways filled the void with its award-winning service.
Convenient Connectivity to many International destinations via Doha
The airline started the route with 4x weekly flights and few months later in early 2010 increased it to a daily flight. It currently flies to more than 160 destinations all over the World from its hub at Doha. Travelers from Amritsar and other airports in India are able to conveniently connect to many of its destinations via Doha. As the Punjabi diaspora is settled all over the World, passengers from Europe (London, Birmingham, Rome, Milan, Frankfurt, Paris etc.), North America (Montreal, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles etc.), Africa and Middle East to Doha have excellent onward late evening connections to Amritsar. On return journey, passengers arrive at Doha from Amritsar early in the morning and conveniently connect to hundreds of other destinations.
More than a Million Passengers
An analysis of the data that is released by India’s Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the airline by the end of year 2019, the airline flew more than a million passengers between Amritsar-Doha. It is also estimated that almost 85% of its traffic is transit passengers via Doha to/from UK, Europe and North America. Since 2014, the airline is flying more than 100,000 passengers every year on this route with more than 90% (approx.) average yearly passenger load factor. The success of Qatar airways proves huge potential of Amritsar Airport for foreign airline carriers considering the large Punjabi diaspora residing all over the World.
Air Service Agreements Restrictions
Under the traffic rights between India & Qatar, the airline is restricted to the total number of passengers that they can fly in a week. The airline flies non-stop from Qatar’s capital city using a two-class (economy & business) Airbus A320 or A321, with total of 144 or 182 seats. Many other foreign carriers especially from the middle east countries including UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Turkey are willing to operate, but not able to do so as Amritsar is not included in the list of Indian airports for them in the air service agreements.
If a choice is given to the travelers, it is more convenient for passengers to fly direct from Amritsar to international destinations due to many factors including the convenience of getting immigration, customs, luggage drop-off, pick-up all being done at Amritsar. Also, these are geographical direct routes to the west and airlines also provide them with shorter connections timings.
Sameep Singh Gumtala is Global Convener of the 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.