Air India on Monday faced some searching questions from the Supreme Court that wanted to know from the loss-making airline about its “ultimate plan” to connect Shimla with New Delhi and Chandigarh.
“You file a status report as to the feasibility of air service connecting Shimla with Chandigarh and Delhi,” a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur said while asking Air India’s chairman-cum-managing director (CMD) to place the report within six weeks.
The bench, also comprising justices AK Sikri and R Banumathi, ordered maintenance of status quo on the December 7, 2015-direction passed by the Himachal Pradesh high court asking Air India, Airports Authority of India and others concerned to start scheduled flights on trial basis from Jubbarhatti airport, 22 km from Shimla.
Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Air India’s CMD, submitted that the loss-making airline was examining the suggestions to at least connect Shimla and Chandigarh with a 40-seater aircraft as the runway at Jubbarhatti Airport was very small.
The senior law officer explained various constraints, including the non-availability of a refuelling facility in Shimla and certain security hazards. He also mentioned economic viability as an issue.
He also told the bench that two tourist towns — Kullu and Dharamshala — were already connected by air.
However, the solicitor general’s submission that Air India was running in loss did not go well with the bench that said the airline should be ready to address such issues.
“So many stories go around why Air India is at loss and why private airlines are profit-making. You are in a catch-22 situation. You can’t say... You have to make effort,” the bench said. It was told that private players like Jet Airways had refused to operate on the route.