SDB offers sops to airlines to build business
The Surat Diamond Bourse (SDB) is in talks with airlines to start twice-a-day flights between Mumbai and Surat and has offered to pay for any unsold tickets. The SDB is trying to attract diamond merchants and improve connectivity to the diamond hub. Air traffic to Surat has decreased in recent years, but the SDB hopes that increased flights will boost connectivity. The proposal has received support from the Mumbai-based Bharat Diamond Bourse. Airlines like IndiGo and SpiceJet are considering the proposal, but have not officially commented on it.
Mumbai/ Surat: In its continuing bid to attract the best of Mumbai’s diamond merchants, the Surat Diamond Bourse (SDB) is in talks with airlines to start twice-a-day flights between Mumbai and Surat and has offered to pay any unsold ticket once they start operations.
Dineshbhai Navadia, chairman of the media committee of SDB, confirmed the move on Wednesday, saying they “are in talks with several airlines, and have offered to pay for any shortfall to meet their minimum required passenger loads.”
So, if an airline with a flight capacity for 175 requires a minimum 50% occupancy to make the flight viable and is experiencing a sharp shortfall, the remaining seats will be paid for by the bourse. “The airlines are considering our proposal,” said Navadia, adding that Surat airport is at a 10-minute distance from SDB and flight connectivity to Mumbai will get a boost after the bourse becomes fully operational.
SDB will be formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 17. However, on Dussehra 983 traders performed the auspicious kalash puja at the bourse which has a capacity of 4,200 offices. On Tuesday, it marked a slow start with 135 offices opening for business.
Emphasising the two-city tug-of-war, SDB has claimed 26 traders have moved from Mumbai to Surat. To build numbers, it is persevering to attract traffic to the diamond hub.
Airlines like IndiGo connect Surat to Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Chennai, Goa and Kolkata, but not to Mumbai. SpiceJet is the only airline that connected the two cities, but shut down the service post-Covid.
Air traffic to Surat has shrunk over the last few years, said SDB officials. In 2018-19, 84,070 domestic passengers travelled through the airport, which came down to 54,458 in the next financial year, further dropping to 708 in 2020-21, 13,664 in 2021-22, and 20,022 in 2022-23, said sources from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
SDB’s proposal has been supported by Mehulbhai Shah, vice president of the Mumbai-based Bharat Diamond Bourse (BDB). “Past attempts to make the air connectivity in the sector failed for various reasons. One, Surat is connected very well by Shatabdi, Vande Bharat, Tejas etc and it takes only about 3 to 3.5 hours to reach there. But, though the duration of the flight is short, the process of boarding and alighting takes the same time as train travel. Besides, getting a slots at busy Mumbai airport is expensive,” Shah said.
“Mumbai-Surat flight will work well if small 100-seater aircrafts are introduced, which go point to point and also provide security for the high value cargo of the diamond trade,” he added. “A flight is more secure than train. There is huge potential between the two sectors – even two daily flights will work well because the cargo that is transported will be back securely in the trader’s office by night.”
The sprawling SDB, built over 6.7 million sq ft built-up area on a 35-acre land in Khajod, has been desperately trying to upgrade its domestic and international connectivity. In August, BJP state president CR Patil led a delegation of SDB core team to meet the prime minister to finalise the date for the inauguration. The delegation also met aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and submitted a memorandum demanding daily flights from Surat to Dubai and Surat to Hong Kong, and weekly flights from Surat to the US, London, Singapore and Bangkok.
“Surat with a population of 70 lakh is one of the fastest growing cities and is also one of the biggest textile markets in the country,” said the memorandum adding that a large chunk of NRIs based abroad come from south Gujarat and will also benefit from the international connectivity. Scindia assured the delegation that within three to four months, Surat-Dubai and Surat-Hong Kong will be started, although there has been no ground movement towards that yet.
Airline operators pointed out that the Mumbai-Surat sector is very well-connected by the railways, and with the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train in the offing, the duration will get shorter. Flight connectivity is a serious challenge, they said. When HT contacted, IndiGo and SpiceJet, both refused to comment, but said they would examine the SDB proposal.
On the other hand, Rupesh Kumar Loghan, director, Surat Airport, said he had not received any information officially about the proposal.