September 17, 2008
Airline Steps in to Replace Air India’s Flights to Amritsar
By Rhona Ganguly
A new airline has stepped forward to fill Air India's shoes by offering flights to the subcontinent from Birmingham International Airport.
The announcement follows Air India's shock decision last week to pull the plug on its Birmingham to Amritsar route in order to protects its valuable slots at Heathrow Airport.
Named after a famous historical village - significant to followers of Sikhism - Bilga Air's flights will be operated by UK Charter Airline Monarch.
Although its schedule will vary at different times of the year, its flights will mainly operate on Sunday and Monday evenings. While some will have a technical stop for fuelling en-route, more than 90 per cent will operate non-stop.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the decision boosted the belief that Birmingham was the bridge path for Europe into Asia.
"I am not surprised really as it seems to me that the business communities that fly from Birmingham to India was there and it was only a matter of time before another airline came forward," he said.
"Our greatest cultural asset is the Asian business community. It is such a way of life now to think of the city in terms of its diversity and it is natural now to see ourselves as a melting pot.
"Here we are now with India's economy booming, with Tata looking to do more in the region, so we must be seen as their natural home and if you can fly here, then you can get here. That is how business people think - if you can't fly there directly, they just knock you off the list."
Peter Vella, Birmingham International Airport's business development director, said: "It is great news that Bilga Air is starting services to Amritsar from Birmingham in October.
"Bilga Air's operation will help to fill a very popular market which exists in the Midlands, and following the disappointing news that Air India will temporarily suspend its flights between Birmingham and India from the end October, I'm sure it will be greatly welcomed by the Midlands Asian community.
"We wish them every success."
A spokeswoman for the airport said the introduction of the airline would not affect Air India's slot if it intended to return in the spring and that passengers would have the choice of flying to India with either airline.
Surinder Kanwar, director of Bilga Air, said the airline was excited to offer its new operation to both tourists and members of the Asian community in the West Midlands.
"Despite threats of an economic slowdown, we believe that Bilga Air has the ingredients to sustain a successful operation due to the ethnically diverse region in which Birmingham Airport sits and first class facility it offers," he said.
The aircraft cabin will be a mixed configuration of economy and a premium economy.
Passengers will be able to enjoy bigger leather seats and extra legroom - up to 34 inches in premium economy compared to 31 in economy, as well as a personal entertainment screen.
Flights will start at pounds 575 return.
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