Expats from Kerala overjoyed as Saudia restarts Calicut flights


Saudi Gazette

Hundreds of thousands of Indian workers from the southern state of Kerala living in western Saudi Arabia are delighted over the materialization of their long-time demand for the resumption of direct flights between Jeddah and Calicut.

Several prominent businessmen and community members, including Alungal Mohammed, president of Abeer Medical Group, and V.P Mohammed Ali, chairman of Jeddah National Hospital, will join the celebration of the «Victory Day», organized by the Calicut-based Malabar Development Forum (MDF), by flying on board the Saudia flight, which will take off from Jeddah at 3.15 a.m. Wednesday to Calicut International Airport in Karippur.

Hundreds of local people, led by K.M. Basheer, president of MDF, will accord a rousing reception to the flight and the passengers who join the «victory trip» at Calicut.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, Mohammed Ali, who was in the forefront of the struggle to reinstate the direct flight, said it was a moment of great joy and jubilation for the 500,000-plus Keralites living in western Saudi Arabia. He thanked senior officials of the Saudi Arabian Airlines for their great support to resume direct flights to Calicut.

Mohammed Ali had been in frequent contacts with senior Saudia officials as well as Indian Civil Aviation officials as part of the community’s relentless struggle to remove the hurdles that stood in the way of the resumption of the service.

Addressing a press conference in Calicut on Monday, Basheer and other leaders of the MDF, said MDF would celebrate the «Victory Day» on Wednesday to mark the success of their two-year long «Save Karippur» struggle for the resumption of direct flights to Jeddah and Riyadh by staging traditional cultural programs at a welcome ceremony for passengers on board the first flight from Jeddah.

He said the MDF would continue its fight for the resumption of direct flights by other airline companies, especially Air India, the national flag carrier, for which Jeddah-Kozhikode sector was one of the most profitable routes. He thanked India’s Minister of Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu for removing all bottlenecks and facilitated the resumption of the service.

Around 2 million Gulf expatriates from the northern Kerala use the Karippur airport, which was the seventh busiest airport in India in terms of passenger traffic and is often touted as the gateway to the Malabar region.

The suspension of wide-bodied aircraft has affected hundreds of thousands of expatriates and their families living in the Gulf states, and subsequently they were forced to rely on connection flights.

There has also been intense pressure on the authorities to restore Calicut as the embarkation point for Haj pilgrims from the state. The Haj embarkation point was shifted to Kochi airport in 2015 when restrictions were placed on large aircraft flying to Calicut.

The airport was closed for wide-bodied aircraft since May 2015 for the re-carpeting of the runway, forcing Air India, Saudia and Emirates to divert their flights to Kochi, 155 km away. Air India later started operating a connection service to Calicut via Mumbai. The Airports Authority of India (AAI), which operates the airport, had undertaken a Rs1 billion overhaul of the extensively damaged tabletop runway.

After a long interval of 18 months, the airport was opened for round-the-clock service by the end of 2016 with a revised runway schedule, but services of large aircraft remained suspended. Among the airlines, Saudia grabbed the first opportunity to resume direct flight after the authorities gave the green signal following agitations and a legal battle to save the airport by the MDF and a number of mass organizations based in Kerala and their affiliated bodies in the Gulf.