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Odisha’s lone ‘international’ airport only a feeder airport!


Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jul 6:

Air India’s flight schedule has nailed the fallacious claim by the Union Civil Aviation ministry that international flight operations would be launched from the Biju Patnaik International airport in the Odisha capital from July 10 ahead of the Nabakalebara festival.

Biju Patnaik airport in Bhubaneswar
Biju Patnaik airport in Bhubaneswar

A Civil Aviation ministry release, issued in the last week of June, had said that international flight operations would set off from Bhubaneswar to Dubai via Hyderabad before July 10. It was apparently done to facilitate tourist inflow during the Nabakalebara festival in Puri which is expected to draw a crowd of over 50 lakh pilgrims to the holy town.

However, to everyone’s surprise, it has now emerged that international flights will not touch down on the Biju Patnaik International Airport here as the flights will be operating on the hub and spoke model. As per the model, the carriers will be taking the passengers to international hubs from the feeder airport. In short, Air India will only be ferrying international passengers to and from New Delhi.

The draft aviation policy envisages six metro airports—New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad– to act as airline hubs.

“Currently, we do not have plans to operate flights to Dubai from Bhubaneswar airport. We will be operating to and from Delhi. Passengers flying to Dubai will have to obtain two boarding passes—one at Bhubaneswar and another at Delhi. Immigration check and customs clearance will be done at Bhubaneswar airport so that international passengers don’t have to get it done at Delhi airport again,” an official of Air India said.

Notably, immigration check and customs clearance facilities are limited to Air India customers only. Besides, the passengers flying by member airlines of Star Alliance network, consisting of 27 carriers presently, can avail these facilities here. Indigo Airlines and Go Air are not part of the Star Alliance network. Passengers flying by other carriers would have to get the clearances done at New Delhi airport.

Air India flights AI 877 and AI 874 will operate as AI 077 and AI 078 under the hub and spoke flight operation at Biju Patnaik International Airport terminal T2. The AI 077 flight will leave New Delhi at 0705 hours and arrive at Bhubaneswar at 0905 hours while the international flight AI078 will take off at 14:00 hours and land at New Delhi at 16:25 hours. The flights will operate all through the week.

The international passengers will board the connecting flight to Dubai at 20:30 hours and the Bhubaneswar-bound Dubai passengers will land at New Delhi airport at 0450 hours from where they will take the connecting flight AI 077 at 0705 hours.

A direct flight from Bhubaneswar to Dubai would have taken six hours to reach at the destination. Instead, it will take 10 hours including four hours’ waiting time at New Delhi airport.

In December last year, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, in a letter to Civil Aviation Minister A Gajapathi Raju, had opposed the hub and spoke model of the aviation policy. Patnaik had said, the model is fraught with risks of accentuating development induced inequalities.

It may be recalled that the airport got its international certification on October 30, 2013. On June 27, Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Mahesh Sharma, had announced in New Delhi that international flight operations would start from Biju Patnaik International airport from July 10.

A Union minister is scheduled to inaugurate the ‘international’ operations from the city.