There is good news in the offing for Punjabi diaspora looking for better air connectivity between Australia and Punjab.
Many cities across Australia including Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Gold Coast will now be connected directly to Amritsar. In the coming months, there will be more convenient connections between Amritsar and Australia, with three airlines now likely to directly link this route.
The newest addition to this route will be Air Asia X beginning Amritsar-Kuala Lumpur operations from 16th August 2018*.
At present Amritsar is already connected with Kuala Lumpur by Malindo Air and with Singapore by Scoot, providing an easy access to south-east Asia and onwards to Australia and New Zealand, where Punjabis are increasingly travelling to for education, work and leisure.
The co-convenor of #FlyAmritsar initiative Anantdeep Singh Dhillon told SBS Punjabi that the new flights will give passengers flying through Malaysia a quicker option than first having to transit through New Delhi.
“This is a great outcome for the passengers who want to fly between Amritsar and major Australian cities,” said Mr Dhillon. "The journey between Amritsar and Sydney can now be completed in less than 16 hours with this expedient connection.”
“Our convener Sameep Singh Gumtala has been contacting various airlines across the world with detailed presentations including data and traffic statistics.
“This new flight by Air Asia X is a direct result of these efforts. They were swift and receptive for starting this new connection to Amritsar.
“We’re glad that Punjabi diaspora in Australian region and travellers wishing to fly in directly to Amritsar’s Sri Guru Ram Dass Ji International Airport can now support the initiative for bringing in more airline connections.”
The #FlyAmritsar Initiative was started in 2016 for a focused approach toward bringing in more international and domestic flights to Amritsar’s Sri Guru Ram Dass Ji International Airport.
This takes forward the initiative that was started way back in 1990’s by the Amritsar-based NGO Amritsar Vikas Manch, in a bid to promote a sustainable development of Amritsar and to heed to the popular sentiment.
Earlier this year, a special parliamentary campaign was launched in UK under the leadership of British Member of Parliament Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi for direct Amritsar-London flights.
It was during the reign of Prime Minister Mr. I. K Gujral in late 1990’s that the expansion work was begun in Amritsar airport, which has been hosting international flights since 1970’s.
The airport was originally granted the status of an international airport in 1980 when international flights to destinations in Afghanistan, the then Soviet Union and England were introduced.
Amritsar Airport is considered as the most important airport north of Delhi in terms of passenger volume and airline connections. The airport is currently served by quite a few International airlines namely Qatar Airways (Doha), Turkmenistan Airlines (Ashgabat), Uzbekistan Airways (Tashkent), Scoot (Singapore), Air India (Birmingham), Air India Express (Dubai–International), Spicejet (Dubai–International), Malindo Air (Kuala Lumpur) The latest addition to this list will be AirAsia X starting flights to Kuala Lumpur–International from 16 August 2018.
Domestic connectivity is serviced by Air India (Delhi, Mumbai, Nanded), JetAirways (Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune), Vistara (Delhi, Mumbai), Spicejet (Bangalore, Mumbai), IndiGo (Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Srinagar), AirAsia India (Bangalore begins 26th July 2018).
Mr Yogesh Kamra, Additional Secretary of the Amritsar Vikas Manch disclosed that over the last few years there has been a tremendous increase in air traffic and passenger footfall at the Sri Guru Ram Dass Ji international Airport in Amritsar and that international passenger volume has also grown considerably.
He said that in the year 2017-2018 (till March 2018) 6,34,072 international passengers used this airport whereas in the previous year the number was around 5,38,090 passengers, a change of around 17.8%. The domestic passenger numbers have seen an increase of more than 63.9% with numbers in 2017-2018 reaching 16,85,883 from 10,28,317 in 2016-2017.
Amritsar Vikas Manch, an NGO has been lobbying about flights for the past many years. Briefing this Sameep Singh Gumtala Secretary-Overseas Affairs AVM said that the increase in domestic passengers proves the potential for international flights from the Airport as more than 50% of these domestic passengers fly to international destinations from Delhi on Indian carriers’ international flights or on their codeshare partner flights.
“Despite the high traffic potential from Amritsar, Indian carriers Jet Airways and Air India continue to ignore this sector and are refusing to start international flights from Amritsar,” said Mr Gumtala.
"Amritsar Vikas Manch has already filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in The Punjab and Haryana High Court regarding the start of International flights by Air India and Jet Airways and was able to get the restart of Air India’s Amritsar-Birmingham flight."
Mr. Dhillon told SBS that they’ve approached many foreign airline carriers including Fly Dubai, Emirates, Oman Air, Air Asia, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Hongkong Airlines, various Chinese airlines with detailed presentations including data and traffic statistics.
“We’ve written to the Ministry to Civil Aviation, Airport Authority of India and Director Amritsar Airport demanding renewal of bilateral air service agreements with addition of Amritsar as point of call to allow airline carriers from UAE, Oman, China, Europe & North America be able to start flights to Amritsar Airport,” said Mr Dhillon.
According to media reports, two Indian domestic airlines are looking to commence international flights between Australia and India after the two countries signed an Open Sky pact.
IndiGo and Air Vistara are the two of India’s domestic airlines looking to start international operations with an eye on the Australian aviation sector - a development many among the Indian diaspora can’t wait to take advantage of.
*SBS Punjabi has contacted Air Asia for their comments.