National carrier Air India launched flights from its Delhi hub to Kanpur,Uttar Pradesh and Bhatinda, Punjab in quick succession. The thrice weekly flights will be operated by Air India’s fully owned subsidiary Air India Regional/Alliance Air (IATA: 9I, ICAO:LLR) by deploying ATR-72 aircraft.
The flights on Delhi Kanpur Delhi sector were operational on Sunday 10th December and would operate on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. AI9801 will depart Delhi at 1215hrs and reach Kanpur at 1340hrs while AI9802 will depart Kanpur at 1410hrs and reach Delhi at 1535hrs.
Air India has operated flights to Kanpur with CRJ700 when it operated Delhi – Kanpur –Allahabad – Delhi flights. The flights had ceased operations over a year ago.
The flights on Delhi Bhatinda Delhi sector were operational on Monday 11th December and would operate on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. AI 9621 will depart Delhi at 1215hrs and reach Bhatinda at 1345hrs while AI 9622 will depart Bhatinda at 1415 hrs and reach Delhi at 1545hrs.
Kanpur is the most populous city in Uttar Pradesh, with a population even higher than capital Lucknow as per 2011 census. With Lucknow airport, which is bigger and has International connectivity, just an hour and half away from Kanpur by road, the city has never had a serious shot at dedicated flights. Flights to Kanpur will land at Kanpur – Chakeri. The 9000 ft runway at Kanpur is operated by Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) – which also has an Engine and Aircraft manufacturing Unit.
Bhatinda is a forward airbase of the Indian Air Force and fifth largest city in Punjab by population. Airports Authority of India had built a civil enclave in 2012. With Amritsar & Chandigarh airports over 4 hours away by road, flights to Bhatinda could see increased traction from the region whose catchment area would include nearby towns & villages.
Both Bhatinda and Kanpur are listed as part of the Regional Connectivity Scheme (UDAN). However, these flights are not part of the UDAN scheme, meaning there would neither be any fare cap on these flights nor will Air India get subsidized for operating these flights. It needs to be seen if the government and Air India work out ways to fit these flights under UDAN, when the scheme is operationalized a few months from now. The flights could benefit from decreased operational charges with a higher shot at profitability.
With elections due in both these states in the next couple of months, one can only hope that there is a commercial angle to these flights and not political alone. Bhatinda is represented by Union Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal who represents Shiromani Akali Dal, while Kanpur is represented by senior Bhartiya Janata Party Leader MM Joshi in the Lok Sabha.
The addition of these two destinations will take the total domestic destinations connected from Delhi by non-stop flights to 46.