Travel representatives cite low patronage and excellent road, rail network as reasons

Although the commissioning of a modern terminal at the Tiruchi airport a couple of years ago marked a major leap forward, the surprisingly poor air connectivity to domestic destinations from the city continues to disappoint the industry, especially the travel trade.

While there has been an increase in the number of flights operated to foreign destinations from the city, there has not been much improvement in domestic connectivity. Travel industry representatives feel that it is time that city got connections to major domestic destinations such as New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kolkata.

Presently, the airport is handling Air India Express flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Abu Dhabi, Dubai; Sri Lankan Airlines flights to Colombo, Air Asia flights to Kuala Lumpur, Tiger Airways to Singapore and Mihin Lanka flights to Colombo. More flights to some of these and other foreign destinations are also in the offing.

On the other hand, there is very little interest shown by the airlines to operate flights to domestic destinations from Tiruchi. Except Chennai, which is connected by Air India Express, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines, and a single weekly flight to Mumbai, no other city is connected with Tiruchi.

Air operators contend that Tiruchi offers higher scope for attracting ethnic traffic from the central districts to foreign destinations. But patronage for domestic services has not been very encouraging, they say citing the discontinuation of services to Bangalore. Simplyfly Deccan, part of the UB group's Kingfisher Airlines, which had introduced flights on the Bangalore-Tiruchi-Bangalore sector had suspended it in June 2008. That was for the second time that the Bangalore-Tiruchi-Bangalore flights were withdrawn. Previously, Kingfisher Airlines had introduced flights on the sector in January 2007 only to withdraw it by October the same year. The excellent rail and road connectivity enjoyed by the city is cited as one of the factors for the hesitation of air operators to come up with domestic flights.

But travel agents point out that the lone weekly flight to Mumbai by Air India Express was attracting consistent load factor, despite the absence of a convenient return flight. They point out that Madurai and Coimbatore have been well connected domestically, though they may handle fewer flights to foreign destinations.

Sluggish growth

Industry representatives observe that the poor domestic air connectivity was one of the reasons for the sluggish industrial growth including the development of the IT Park in the city. Air links to Bangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi were essential for the city's growth, it was contended. Some of the agents feel that air operators could get a good load factor by linking domestic destinations to their international flights operating out of Tiruchi.

Tiruchi, agents say, could be made as the alternative airport to Chennai and bemoan the absence of an effective lobby to project the city's requirements. During 2010-11, there were 5,084 flight movements from Tiruchi as against 4,831 in 2009-2010, which indicates a steady growth of the airport.

On an average the airport handles 1050 international passengers and 210 domestic passengers per day, they point and say passenger movement was bound to increase further if only there were more flights to domestic destinations.