Ras Al Khaimah: Members of the Indian community living in the emirate and surrounding areas have threatened to boycott Air India flights if the airline does not meet their demand to start flights from Ras Al Khaimah to India.
The warning came after a meeting of eight major Indian community associations in Ras Al Khaimah. They also called on the Indian government to take action to start flights between cities in India and Ras Al Khaimah immediately.
S.A Saleem, President of Indian Association in Ras Al Khaimah and Chairman of the Indian School Ras Al Khaimah, said: "Around 450,000 Indian expatriates live in and around Ras Al Khaimah, Dibba, Kalba and other towns in the Northern emirates.
"They have no choice but to travel to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah airports to catch their flights which takes to two to three hours extra time in addition to more money," said.
Presently, only RAK Airways operates one flight from the emirate to Calicut.
"The Ras Al Khaimah Airport and Ras Al Khaimah civil aviation authorities have said in the past that they are ready to welcome Indian carriers to operate from this airport but the response from the Indian side is not forthcoming," he noted.
Representatives of the eight Indian associations also appealed to the chief minister of the Indian state of Kerala and India's civil aviation minister, who is also the minister of Indian overseas welfare, to seriously look into this matter and order Air India to commence direct air services between Ras Al Khaimah and Indian cities such as Cochin, Trivandrum, Mangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad and Chennai.
They said the government should also allow RAK Airways, the national carrier of Ras Al Khaimah, to operate on these sectors.
"If no favourable actions are taken in this regard with immediate affect the various associations will encourage the community to even go to the extent of boycotting Air India during the upcoming holiday season," Saleem said.
The association representatives added that this call is not for selfish personal reasons for there are also strong business reasons for increased connectivity.
"India is an excellent investment destination for the UAE, while on the other hand more than 1000 Indian companies are operating out of Ras Al Khaimah free trade zone alone, where the majority of the investors are from Kerala, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmadabad and Hyderabad in India," they said.
The Government of India has been strongly pitching for greater investment from the UAE, asking the country to be a part of its growth story in all sectors.
"With only one air connection provided from RAK Airport to India, how can the Indian government expect investors and businessmen from Ras Al Khaimah area to travel to India?" questioned the representatives of associations at the meeting.
The associations have also threatened to take the issue to the highest level by sending petitions to the prime minister of India and chief ministers of various states if their demands are not met.
Airline dismisses boycott threat
Abhay Pathak, Air India's Regional Manager for Gulf, Middle East and Africa, dismissed the issue of Indian associations in Ras Al Khaimah threatening to boycott the national carrier Air India as "unnecessary".
"They [the Indian associations in RAK] have some other agenda. They won't boycott," he told Gulf News.
He, however, added that "we are currently studying the possibility. If we see there is commercial viability on the Ras Al Khaimah-India route, we will consider it, not otherwise. All the decisions are eventually taken at the centre level."
Pathak said that from 1993 to 2007, Air India did operate a once-a-week services between Ras Al Khaimah and some Indian cities such Calicut, Trivandrum and Chennai. "But the response was so poor that we had to terminate our RAK-India services. For instance, in one year (2006-2007), we had only 1,254 passengers flying to India."
Meanwhile, the Indian government has asked Air India to prepare an 8-10-year-plan of resource generation to revamp itself by implementing the turnaround and financial restructuring programme to the hilt.