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Caption: A screen grab of KMCC Dubai’s virtual press conference on Tuesday Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Flying home on charter flights will become affordable to more stranded Keralites in the UAE as community groups chartering repatriation flights have reduced fares.

The Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) Dubai on Tuesday announced that it has got approval to operate three charter flights to Kerala this week at a fare of Dh990.

“We are offering tickets at Dh990 after bearing Dh60 per passenger from our side as the last rate we got from the airline was Dh1,050,” Ebrahim Elettil, president of the community group, said at a virtual press conference.

The Indian Consulate in Dubai confirmed to Gulf News that KMCC Dubai has been given final approval to operate a total of three charter flights from Sharjah to Kozhikode on May 11 and 12.

Afi Ahmed, managing director of Dubai-based Smart Travel, said in a press release that he has got the approval from the government of Kerala to operate 10 flights from the UAE to Kannur.

“I am not intending to make any profit out of this. I will be operating the flights for a fare of Dh995 for any community organisation that wishes to send stranded Malayalis home,” he said.

Tickets for two community charter flights that were operated on behalf of KMCC from Ras Al Khaimah last week were priced at Dh1,300.

It is understood that ticket fares have now been reduced after the intervention of the Kerala government that capped the fares for charter flights to avoid exploitation of the helpless situation of those trying to fly home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As reported first by Gulf News, the Kerala government had earlier stipulated that charter fares cannot be higher than the ticket rates of the special repatriation flights under the Indian government’s Vande Bharat Mission (VBM).

However, the Consul General of India in Dubai, Vipul told Gulf News this week that the state government had become lenient with the condition and stipulated that charter fares should be comparable to that of the VBM flights.

This followed complaints from community groups and travel agencies that planned to operate charter flights that airlines would not agree for the average rate of Dh725.

Elettil said KMCC would strive for renegotiating with the airlines to further reduce the fares for the rest of the flights it is planning to charter.

The organisation has got the state government’s approval for 30 more charter flights to Kannur and it is in the process of seeking approval for 10 more flights to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

Neeraj Agrawal, consul, Press, Information and Culture at the Indian Consulate, said the mission has received around 50 applications for charter flights to different states and most of them are to Kerala.

Elettil and other KMCC officials, Musthafa Vengara and Musthafa Tirur Kadavath, who attended the press conference said both Kerala and Indian governments should contribute from community funds to ensure more distressed Indians can fly home soon.

As many as 21,000 people have registered with KMCC for repatriation on charter flights. KMCC said it would give at least 10 free tickets per flight if there are deserving passengers. It added that priority would be given to pregnant women, elderly citizens, people with medical emergencies, stranded visitors and those who have lost jobs, as stipulated by the consulate.

Only those who have already applied for repatriation with the Indian missions can fly home on charter flights.