Air India plane from Dubai crashes at Kozhikode Airport
A return of bigger aircraft to the runways of Kozhikode Airport is unlikely to happen any time soon. Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: The resumption of flights involving bigger aircraft from Kerala’s Kozhikode airport may take longer, industry sources say. The restrictions on wide-bodied aircraft at Kerala’s third busiest airport was placed in 2020.

The Kozhikode airport, which was once served by Emirates and Etihad Airways, placed a ban on twin-aisle aircraft after an Air India Express crash-landed in August 2020, resulting in the death of 21 passengers.

“This is not of immediate concern as flydubai offers Business Class cabin for the discerning travellers for now – this void will be felt as and when international tourists return to Kerala,” said Vinamra Longani of Sarin & Co., which is a law firm specialising in aircraft leasing and finance.

Calicut airport is run by the Airports Authority of India, a government entity that has been actively engaging with all stakeholders to resume wide-body operations at the airport, said Longani.

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Good proposition

Despite being close to other hubs such as Kochi and Coimbatore, Calicut still has a relatively large market that it can serve. “It’s perhaps one of the only two Indian airports where you have more international travellers than domestic travelers,” said Satyendra Pandey, Managing Partner at AT-TV, an aviation consultancy. “Around 90 per cent of the traffic is international travellers, and within international all of them are headed to the Gulf.”

Pandey argues that while not being able to fly bigger planes is a setback, these restrictions are nothing new. “There were restrictions even back in 2015 because the airport has a table-top runway, so there’s very little scope to expand it.”

Extending the runway by 500 meters each way can cost around $600 million and for that amount a new airport can be built, said the aviation expert.

Ban to stay

As per local media reports, a team attached to the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) conducted an assessment of the facilities, including safety measures, at the airport. Although the Airports Authority of India (AAI) officials said the visit of the team was a routine one, its report could be key to the resumption of wide-bodied aircraft operations.

“The restrictions will remain in the near-term, but in the mid-term, they might allow wide bodies when they have a special standard operating procedure there,” said Pandey. “Within the wide-body operators, you only have Saudia, Air India, Emirates and Qatar Airways.”

Meantime, budget carriers such as flydubai and Air Arabia Abu Dhabi have begun operating between UAE and Calicut, offering flights for as little as Dh300. Even if the regulators were to give the green light, it remains to be seen if there will be enough demand for the high-cost options offered by the full-service carriers.

“The traffic out of this area is characterized as ‘low yield’ and ‘high volume’, which means airlines have to sell cheap - but they make it up by selling a lot more units,” said Pandey. The analyst added that until the economics of flying improve, it makes more sense for airlines to fly smaller airplanes.

International flights

With Omicron cases surging, it looks like the resumption of a full roster of scheduled flights between UAE and India may take longer. India is targeting January 31 to end its ‘air bubble’ agreement policy, but aviation experts say that the government will most likely postpone the date again.

India is having a “day to day” assumption on when to allow resumption of normal international flights, said Rakesh Kumar Verma, Additional Secretary, Tourism, Government of India, during an interview with Gulf News last week.

“One has to balance the concerns of public safety and travel,” said Verma. “We will take very expeditious action as and when things improve and the assessment is carried out. I'm hopeful that [full] international travel will resume soon.”