There are 37 UNESCO world heritage sites in India and the oldest two – Ajanta Caves & Ellora Caves are located near Aurangabad in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. An airport which got a new terminal about a decade ago, has enough apron space and a runway long enough to cater to narrow body aircraft with full loads, the country could have well explored the tourism potential of these sites long back by improving connectivity to the city.
While over 10 million tourists come to India every year, a small country like Cambodia alone attracts 1 million – a number which could eventually be achieved by Aurangabad alone if accessibility is improved for these two sites.
Yet, Aurangabad is one of the handful cities / urban areas in the country which is in top 30 in the country by population, has a functional airport which is civilian unlike many others and struggles to get air connectivity.
History & Current Operations
Often the travel agents, longtime residents and tourist circles talk about bringing back IC491/IC492. A couple of years ago, the local travel agents staged protests demanding a return of this flight. The famed flight flew between Delhi and Mumbai via Jaipur, Udaipur and Aurangabad, while IC492 flew the reverse sector. From the days when only Indian Airline existed and since then till the flight routing was withdrawn, the sector attracted good traffic with tourists connecting from Rajasthan and combining Aurangabad with their trip to Northern parts of the country.
Airlines have since tried multiple variations. Spicejet has flown Delhi – Aurangabad – Nanded, Jet Airways has flown Delhi – Aurangabad – Hyderabad – Delhi and then Delhi – Aurangabad – Pune – Delhi, before withdrawing the service.
Air India, Jet Airways and Trujet operate to Aurangabad today with flights connecting to Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Newspaper reports indicate that Vistara is planning to start service to Aurangabad this summer and Jet Airways has won rights under UDAN 3 to operate to Udaipur. Neither of the flights are available for booking yet but Vistara interlines with ANA as well as JAL. While ANA lands around midnight, JAL lands during the evening hours at Delhi, with the return flights being late evening for JAL and post-midnight for ANA. Vistara could do well with mid-day departures from Delhi or early evening, so that the return can connect to the Japanese flights, to offer an option for tourists from Japan to go back without another stopover at Delhi.
With up to 4 stands for A320/B737 type and two operational aero bridges, the airport can handle much more than its 5 daily departures! The airport occasionally handled A310 aircraft which operates the special Haj flights to Jeddah.
The runway is 9,300 feet long with Instrumentation Landing System (ILS) and the topology of the airport and the region is such that there rarely is a disruption due to fog or rain.
Ajanta Caves are older than Angkor Wat – the crowd puller in South East Asia. The caves include a mix of paintings and rock-cut structures. The 2nd century BCE wonder was found only in 1819 by a British military official while tiger hunting. Ellora Caves is one of the largest rock-cut monastery temple cave complexes in the world. Apart from these, there are several other tourist places like the Daulatabad fort which was built in the 12th century and was never conquered by military force.
Apart from the tourist potential, the city is home to production units of Audi, Bajaj, Skoda, Goodyear, Siemens, Videocon, Fosters and UB group. The city had its moment of fame when 150 Mercedes cars were booked at one go in 2010. Indeed, number of cars don’t translate into flight tickets but goes on to show the financial potential of the small population.
Aurangabad lacks the pressure groups which few other cities in the country have but pressure groups do not help attract airlines, they at best can only facilitate at local level. For airlines, the potential is not just the industry but the tourists that it can get in, primarily from South East Asia – which can be effectively connected via Bengaluru / Hyderabad or even Delhi – which is already well connected to Japan, South Korea and few points in ASEAN.
What stops the airlines from starting flights to Aurangabad?
Most of the traffic from the city is to Mumbai. The city – largest in the Marathwada region of the state is a local powerhouse for education, politics and administration and sees traffic to the state capital Mumbai. With Mumbai airport being slot constrained, there are only three flights a day to Mumbai, two by Jet Airways and one by Air India. The two cities are connected by over 50 direct busses, most of which ply during the night hours. A 10% traffic moving away from bus to flight could mean an additional flight being successful on this route!
As airlines look to use the existing slots at Mumbai to connect new destinations, one could hope for connectivity to Mumbai – which will be largely driven by business traffic and the Delhi flights supporting tourism traffic. Because of the relatively harsh temperatures in summer, the foreign tourists have preferred the winter season for travel to India – be it the northern states or Aurangabad and an airline could look at seasonal operations where it can make quick buck and operate with lesser frequency in summer or pull out altogether.
As an airline, you can either tap the fastest growing sector or look differently at the potential and tap the sector which has been stagnant for a while and explore its potential. A lot of airports in India have been growing exponentially for the last three years, on the back of capacity being added by the airlines. However, not all of it is backed by profitable growth. Some is investment which will get realized in the long run.
Aurangabad is known as the city of gates – it had 52 gates, each with its own history. Hopefully, soon it will become a gateway to explore the tourist potential of the UNESCO world heritage sites which will help the city as well as the country attract tourist in droves. In a country where runway capacity, apron space and terminal capacity is rarely in sync, we are sitting with an airport which has ample capacity on the runway, apron and terminal side along with a lot of potential but not yet looked by the airlines and government to explore the tourist potential.