It will help attract foreign investors, tourists besides boosting exports and generating employment
Air India's proposal to provide a link between Visakhapatnam and Dubai has evoked great enthusiasm not only among the people in Visakhapatnam but also those living in Dubai.
The long-cherished dream of the people of the region will be realised when the Visakhapatnam-Dubai Air India flight via Hyderabad is launched on March 25. This is seen as the first step for other airline operators to commence international operations from the “destination city” and exploit the potential of the region.
International air connectivity is expected to foster growth and development of the region in terms of attracting foreign investors, tourists, boosting exports and generating employment. Customs and Immigration facilities are already in place at Visakhapatnam Airport facilitating international passengers to complete formalities before embarking on their journey.
An estimated 2.5 lakh Telugus reside in Dubai, of whom, 30 per cent are said to belong to Visakhapatnam region. They have been representing to the Central government for a long time to introduce a direct flight to Visakhapatnam, said Sarat, a representative of the Sharjah-based All Andhra Association of UAE at a recent meeting organised by the Air Travellers Association of India in the city.
“A high-level delegation from IBM visited Visakhapatnam in the past with the idea of setting up a facility. They were pleased with the infrastructure but opted out on learning that there was no international connectivity,” CEO of Symbiosis Technologies O. Naresh Kumar said.
Same is the case with many other multinational companies who turn away from Vizag for want of international air connectivity. Visakhapatnam Airport has come a long way since the operation of four flights a day a few years ago to 40 flights a day at present. The New Terminal Building was inaugurated in February 2009 and most of the facilities were developed a couple of years ago. The extended 10,000-feet runway was opened in June 2007.
During the past decade, the airport has been registering a steady growth in passenger traffic. The total number of passengers handled has gone up from 1.74 lakhs in 2003-04 to 7.13 lakh in 2010-11. It is estimated to cross 9 lakhs in 2011-12. “The number of passengers handled has gone up from 91,792 in December 2011 to 94,257 in January”, said Airport Director K. Srinivasa Rao.
The Vijayawada airport has an international flight while Tirupati airport is being upgraded rapidly to host flights from international destinations.
The fact that Visakhapatnam attracts a major chunk of foreign tourists compared to other destinations notwithstanding, operation of international flights had been dodging the city for various reasons.
Reluctance of Indian Navy, which has control over the airport, to keep Air Traffic Control (ATC) open round-the-clock on the plea of staff shortage, is the prime reason behind this while the stand off between the government and airline operators has contributed its bit. While the government wants airline operators to submit their consent in writing, giving scheduled time and date of operation of international services, operators insist they can plan their schedules only when the ATC is operational round-the-clock.
Lack of manpower
Officials concerned feel that keeping the airport open without prior assurances from the operators is a ‘colossal waste' of manpower. On their part, operators say that international flight schedules cannot be decided overnight. They had to be worked out at least three months in advance as travel operators across the globe had to be intimated and passenger reservations booked.
Air travellers, exporters and NRIs are optimistic that the AI flight to Dubai marks a beginning and more international flights will operate from the city sooner than later.