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Intra-regional aerial connectivity within South Asia
By: Muhammad Adnan

Effective and efficient transport facilities are essential for development of intra-regional connectivity. Regional connectivity especially economic, physical, and people to people connectivity plays a vital role in regional development. Not only rail and road but also aerial connectivity provides prospects for better regional transport connectivity. South Asia still remains less integrated region of the world. Intra-regional connectivity especially aerial connectivity within South Asia is very low. The national airlines are operating in the region but hardly few private airlines are operating and none of the airline of any South Asian country is operating to all South Asian countries. Before talking further on low aerial connectivity within South Asia, let’s see the operations of national and private airlines in the region. 

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is currently operating to three South Asian countries. PIA operates once a week from Karachi to Delhi, Lahore to Delhi, Karachi to Dhaka, twice a week Karachi to Mumbai, and four times a week from Islamabad to Kabul. Currently PIA is not operating to Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. PIA was operating to Nepal till the end of last year. No Pakistani private airline is operating within South Asia. In return only Sri Lanka’s two airlines are operating to Pakistan. 

India’s national airline Air India is operating to five South Asian destinations Colombo, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Kabul, and Male. To Male it is operating only from Bengaluru, to Dhaka only from Kolkata, to Kabul only from New Delhi, and to Colombo only from Chennai, however to Kathmandu it is operating from Kolkata and New Delhi. Currently Air India is not operating to Pakistan and Bhutan. It was operating to Pakistan before 2010 and it had closed its operations to Lahore and Karachi in April 2010 due to lack of operations from Pakistan. A private airline Jet Airways also operates to three destinations – Dhaka, Colombo, and Kathmandu in South Asia. Talking about in return operations to India, it is the only country where all the South Asian airlines are operating to. 

Bangladesh’s national airline Biman Bangladesh Airlines (BBA) is operating to Kolkata and Kathmandu only. BBA was operating to Pakistan (Karachi) but has suspended its operations in September 2012. At the same time BBA had also suspended its operations to New Delhi and it had resumed operations to New Delhi on 4th May 2013, but again suspended the operations from August 2014, however, to Pakistan BBA has not resumed its operations yet. In return only four airlines are operating to Bangladesh (PIA, Air India, Mihin Lankan Airlines, and Maldivian Airline). 

Sri Lankan Airlines is operating only to three South Asian countries with seven destinations including four to India (New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kochi, and Mumbai), one each to Pakistan (Karachi), and Maldives (Male). Another Sri Lankan government owned airline Mihin Lankan Airlines is also operating to Lahore, Dhaka, and Madurai (India). Overall, Sri Lanka’s both airlines are operating to four South Asian countries. In return, only Air India is operating to Sri Lanka. 

Maldivian Airline is operating to only two destinations, Chennai and Dhaka. In return also two airlines are operating to Maldives (Air India, Sri Lankan Airlines). Druk Air, Bhutan national airline operates to six destinations in India and one to Nepal. In return none of the South Asian airline is operating to Bhutan. Nepal Airlines is operating only to New Delhi in the whole region. In return only three airlines are operating to Nepal (Air India, BBA, and Druk Air). 

Ariana Afghan Airlines is operating to New Delhi only, in return only PIA and Air India is operating to Afghanistan. People are suffering from this low aerial connectivity in terms of airfare and time. In case of once a week flight or no flight to another country in the region, they are paying very high airfare by travelling through Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Istanbul, Bangkok, and Doha to reach another South Asian country. We can further explain the point by taking the example of PIA. PIA is operating to Bangladesh once a week and its current airfare to Dhaka for a return travel is around PKR 48,000 to 55,000 without any stops. 

When Biman Bangladesh Airline was operating directly to Pakistan three flights a week, the airfare was PKR 22,000 to 35,000. Those who visit Bangladesh regularly on alternate days or from different routes are paying a huge airfare for travel through non-south Asian airlines. These airlines include Oman Air, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Turkish Airways, and Qatar Airways with one stop mentioned above. The return ticket of these airlines from Pakistan to Bangladesh for economy class is ranging from PKR 90,000 to 140,000. 

Talking about PIA’s operations to Delhi and Mumbai, PIA’s return airfare to Delhi from Karachi is PKR 48,000 to 55,000 and Lahore to Delhi around PKR 36,000 to 40,000, from Karachi to Mumbai is around PKR 46,000 to 52,000. Again those who have to travel on alternate days or from different routes, are travelling through above mentioned airlines and their airfare from Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi to Delhi is around PKR 90,000 to 120,000 and to Mumbai around PKR 70,000 to 100,000. 

PIA is not operating to Sri Lanka but Sri Lankan Airlines is operating to Pakistan (Karachi) daily with return airfare around PKR 65,000 to 70,000. Another Sri Lankan Airline Mihin Lankan Airlines has started its operation to Lahore from November 2014 with 3 flights weekly and its return airfare is around PKR 70,000 to 75,000. Neither PIA operating to Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives nor Nepal, Bhutan and Maldivian airlines are operating to Pakistan. People of Pakistan and Nepal are travelling through other airlines and are also bearing huge airfare around PKR 120,000 to 140,000. Pakistanis and Bhutanese nationals have to travel through Bangkok and paying the airfare around PKR 100,000 to 130,000. The return airfare for travelling to and from Maldives is around PKR 100,000 to PKR 140,000. 

If the national airlines of South Asia along with private airlines further expand their operations in the region, people can save their money and time as these airlines will be charging more than 50% less airfare with non-stop flights. The huge amount of money which is currently being paid to increase the GDP of Middle East countries can be utilised to increase the GDP of regional countries and the profit of these regional airlines. 

This should be the matter of concern for South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) that among seven South Asian countries none of them is operating to Bhutan, one to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, two to Afghanistan and Maldives, three to Nepal, and four to Bangladesh, and all of them are operating to India. These Airlines are not operating frequently due to low profit and the main reason behind is issuance of visas. 

SAARC should play its role by initiating liberalised visa regime that will become the only way for provision of cheap and in less time movements within South Asia, this will also lead to increase tourism and businesses which ultimately will result in increasing the GDP of South Asian countries.

Source: http://www.brecorder.com/articles-a-letters/626:/1192031:intra-regional-aerial-connectivity-within-south-asia/?date=2015-06-02

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.