Friday, September 30, 2016

Port Blair welcomes Vistara & IndiGo back to back

by Soumen Mukherjee
Today Vistara has commenced service to Port Blair with a direct flight from Delhi via Kolkata. On a first Vistara ventures out beyond the mainland India. The Tata Singapore joint venture full service carrier, which has so far added twelve aircraft in its fleet, is fast expanding its domestic network as Port Blair becomes the 18th destination in just 21 months of operations of Vistara. The Kolkata-Port Blair sector is believed to be a high yield sector specially during the autumn-winter peak tourists season. And Vistara has well-timed the launch on the day of Mahalaya which marks the beginning of festive season in Eastern India and the tourists season too. The airline had announced the Port Blair route on 23 June 2016 a little over three months from the actual service launch. And the level of advance booking is reflected in high loads, according to Sanjiv Kapoor, the chief strategy and commercial officer of Vistara, 98% seats sold out of the inaugural flight (UK 747) which is operated on its latest brand new Airbus A320-232 aircraft (registration: VT-TTM).


Kolkata is by far the busiest route out of Port Blair with most of its connections to Delhi flying via Kolkata. But in recent past the sector has remained stagnant with little or no change in capacity. Therefore the arrival of two new carriers is certainly a welcome move, apart from Vistara, IndiGo too has started operating on Kolkata-Port Blair route just two days ago. With this all the pan-India carriers are now operating on this CAT-II route except AirAsia India which is yet to arrive in Kolkata. Being a leisure beach destination December is the peak moths in terms of tourists arrival, a total of 34,008 passengers traveled between Kolkata and Port Blair sector (two-way) in December 2015 and this figure is expected to cross 50,000 mark this year. As of today's capacity deployment level there will be an increase of more than 10,000 seats on either way in December 2016 compare to the same month a year ago. And it won't be surprising to see InidiGo adding additional capacity withing next few months.


After a long time Port Blair airport is getting some attention from airlines operating mostly in mainland India. The monthly passengers trend shows relatively high seasonal variation with peak-season in winter and off-season in monsoon which may sometime make it challenging for airlines to sustain year round service (see the graph below). However it being enlisted under the CAT-II in the route dispersal guidelines (RDG) is believed to the real cause driving airlines to launch new flights to Port Blair. The RDG mandates airlines to deploy at least 10% of their metro to metro (CAT-I) capacity on routes marked as CAT-II. In 2016 alone two new routes have been opened up and frequencies are being increased on the existing routes. The airport has recently been upgraded with night landing facility allowing airlines to operate late evening flights. And GoAir became the first airline to operate a night landing to the airport and the same airline has scheduled the last departure from the airport to Kolkata at 18:40 as per winter 2016 schedule. GoAir which had earlier launched first ever non-stop flights from Bengaluru and Mumbai to Port Blair in the summer schedule this year is again resuming both the flights from 1 October following suspension during the monsoon off-season. In a typical IndiGo way, the airline did not limit itself by adding the new route from Kolkata, but today it is also launching Port Blair flight from Chennai with one-stop connections to Hyderabad via Chennai. But recently the airport has lost one of its key non-stop route to the national capital Delhi which was dubbed as the longest domestic route in India. Air India under its regional wing used to fly the Port Blair-Delhi leg non-stop on the 2,489 km (1,344 nm) long route on Bombardier CRJ-700 but aircraft shortage had forced the carrier to withdraw from the route.


India's resort island chain Andaman and Nicobar on the Bay of Bengal potentially be developed as the hot spot of tourism on the likes of Hawaii or even Maldives or Phuket. But it seems Indian government not keen to extensively promote tourism there as it views this island chain as strategic asset. Even Port Blair lacks a civil airport, the current airport (IATA: IXZ) operates out of a civil enclave in a defense establishment and faces operational restrictions like in Pune, Goa & others. As per official passenger data released by Airport Authority of India, Port Blair airport is at the 33rd position in the list of busiest airports in India with less than million (8,71,318 to be precise) annual passengers to fly in FY-2016. If we compare this with Jeju which is a small resort island off the South Korean coast. Jeju International Airport had handled 26.2 million passengers in 2015 and has a dedicated airline named after it, Jeju Air. In fact Jeju-Seoul is the World's busiest domestic route by capacity (Delhi-Mumbai is at No.6 on the same list) as of 2016.

And finally, for those who keep on complaining why would airports in India be named after former Prime Ministers belong to one family, here is an airport in the Andaman and Nicobar islands which was re-named in 2002 after Veer Savarkar, the freedom fighter turned thinker who was imprisoned by the British in the then notorious prison island of Andaman (Kalapani). But is it enough to name or rename some national assets after national heroes and then forget about it? Government must promote tourism sector there which is the sole contributor to the local economy and therefore help increase the air travel between main land and Andaman. 

12 comments:

  1. Looking at the shipping corporation of India schedules and fares from Kolkata, Chennai and Vizag, Air travel to Andaman is more convenient and cost effective solution. See the recent troubles by SCI to Port blair bound ship from Vizag. Given that there are regular travelling passengers in addition to the tourists, I hope some airline starts from Vishakapatnam to Port Blair as well. AI regional can do this easily with ATR70 as they have an aircraft doing HYD-VGA-VTZ-VGA-HYD and sits idle rest of the day. May be pilot shortage.

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  2. You will be happy to know that Air India itself operates on the Vizag-Port Blair route on two-weekly basis with its mainline jets operations.

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  3. Thanks for letting me know. I didn't realize that though the prices seem to be like business class fares for economy on friday flights. No wonder why ppl are still travelling in vintage ships not for the fun of traveling but for the need to travel. I hope they increase this service and provide some publicity.

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