Pressure for return of direct India flights from Birmingham
Civic leaders in Birmingham are to try to persuade India to change its protectionist policies after its national carrier confirmed that it had no plans to re-establish direct flights from the city.
Air India, which used to operate a service to the north Indian city of Amritsar, had always said it planned to return to Birmingham International Airport this year after the route was suspended last September.
But it recently emerged Air India has abandoned the plan to return, meaning there is now no direct link from the region to the sub-continent.
Local firm Bilga Air announced it would be starting some routes to take the slack shortly after Air India pulled out. But the flights never materialised, leaving Birmingham without a link to Amritsar.
The airport and Birmingham Chamber of Commerce both said Indian anti-competition laws were stopping other firms from coming in and taking up what is a vitally important link for the people and businesses in the city.
A spokesman for the airport said: “We were expecting them to return, but they have moved their flights from here down to Heathrow, and that’s to our detriment.”
He added he had been speaking to Indian airline Jet about the possibility of replacing Air India, but said: “Initially what we were told by Jet is they were stopped from flying into Birmingham by the Indian government, which wanted to keep it free for Indian Air.
“The other thing is while there’s definitely an opportunity here for other Indian air firms, many are actually retrenching because they overestimated the Indian market.
“The other carriers that we have that fly indirectly have been taking full advantage of the fact that Air India have left, and all of their loads have gone up.”
He said he was confident that a deal could be done to keep the Birmingham-India link open.
Letters have been sent to the Indian government – including one from council leader Mike Whitby – asking them to consider changing their open skies arrangements to keep traffic moving to Birmingham.
Birmingham is one of the most important markets for India because of the high number of people from the area living in the city.
About 400,000 people of Indian descent are estimated to live in the West Midlands area, the airport said.
Jerry Blackett, the chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said: “I think what we would now expect is for the Indian government to soften its protectionist stance. If Air India aren’t returning to Birmingham, we want to see Kingfisher or Jet take up the slack, but the Indian government needs to remove its protectionist approach where it has to give approval for new airlines to fly here.
“It’s our number one transport priority at the moment to make BIA a stop destination, now the expansion will make it easier for us to fly anywhere in the world and part of that equation requires airlines to want to use Birmingham.
“We intend to do something about it.”
Air India stopped its Birmingham-Amritsar service, which ran six times a week, in September saying it had to focus on Heathrow flights to keep its slots there open.