Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Kanpur on Flight Map

A lot of people point to lack of operational airport in Kanpur as a reason for IITK to be going down. I have always disagreed with that, but in any case, that is going to change soon, in less than a month.

Kanpur used to be an active airport during our student days with flights to several cities. But slowly flights shifted to Lucknow. When Fokker Friendship planes were replaced by Boeings, the larger planes could no longer land at Kanpur airport without a load penalty. Also, the industry declined, the trading declined, and the Government became bigger. All of this helped Lucknow. Every now and then, some airline will bring in a small plane for a Kanpur-Delhi flight, but the service will be unreliable. In addition, the costs of a single flight will be high. Also, with the Kanpur-Lucknow highway becoming 4-lane and mostly free of intersections, the time to Lucknow airport is only 30 minutes more than time to Kanpur airport from most parts of Kanpur, and the smaller planes usually take 20-25 minutes extra in flying to Delhi. So these flights did not save time either. And the service will stop sooner or later. The last time there was a flight to Kanpur was a year ago. Air India regional flight stopped in May 2017.

So, realistically speaking, Kanpur airport will see a lot of passengers only when the cost of the flight is comparable to those from Lucknow (and you save on taxi charges), and the flights are reliable (so you don't waste time in waiting for the flight, or worse, in calling a taxi to take you to Lucknow airport). And this is where the UDAN scheme of Government of India has hope for Kanpur.

Airport Director in a tweet couple of days ago has announced that Spicejet has agreed to fly Delhi-Kanpur-Delhi route from 7th June. Also, Air Odisha has announced that they will fly Delhi-Kanpur-Varanasi-Kanpur-Delhi route from 15th June. Both these airlines are flying under the UDAN scheme, which means that fares will probably be comparable to Lucknow-Delhi fares. Spicejet is likely to use a 72 seater aircraft while Air Odisha is likely to use a 20-seater aircraft.

Can we at IIT Kanpur do anything to ensure that these flights are here to stay, and perhaps even encourage these and other airlines to start more flights out of Kanpur. Well, a lot of people from IIT Kanpur fly every day out of Lucknow. The number is not less than 25-30 passengers every day. Can we encourage just 5-10 out of them to fly out of Kanpur. That would be significant number of passengers for the two small planes.

We need to do a few things for this. One, since there is no Air India flight from Kanpur, anyone traveling on IITK funds can take any private airline flight from Kanpur without an explicit prior approval, including that for LTC. Two, further allow a connecting flight from Delhi to be taken on the same airline as one has taken from Kanpur to Delhi. Otherwise, change of terminal at Delhi to T3 to take Air India would mean a lot of extra time, and one might as well go to Lucknow airport to take Air India flight rather than changing terminal at Delhi. Three, allow more of its staff who are not eligible to fly otherwise to travel up to Delhi by air. The 7th pay commission allows everyone with a pay level of 6 and higher to travel by air. Perhaps, we can allow as a special case, people with pay level 4 and 5 to fly only on Kanpur-Delhi route (like people in NorthEast are allowed to fly Guwahati-Kolkata route). To further reduce the costs of people patronizing these flights, IIT Kanpur could arrange a shared Innova to take IITK passengers for at least Spicejet flight and bring back those who have arrived by the flight. (Air Odisha 20-seater flight is unlikely to have many IITK passengers, and also, since the flight arrives early morning, and leave late morning, a single taxi cannot cover both flights.)

These steps would not cost much to IIT Kanpur, but would provide extra passengers to these flights. Remember, five years ago, we had experimented with a helicopter service to Lucknow, which did not save time for anyone, and the subsidy was Rs. 1 lakh per day. If we could try that, we can certainly try these steps outlined above. After all, a regular flight to Kanpur would make a huge difference in the perception of people about IIT Kanpur.

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