International flights are yet to start from the city despite Biju Patnaik Airport being accorded an international tag nearly a year ago.
Raju said this to state tourism minister Ashok Panda at the airport while going to his cyclone-battered constituency Vizianagaram en route Bhubaneswar. "During our brief discussion, the Union minister promised that international operations would start as he would urge the Indian carriers to fly to international destinations from here. To begin with, Phuket may be explored as that would not only be feasible for Air India but it will help boost the state's tourism," Panda told TOI quoting the Union minister.
He said other Indian carriers would also be requested to explore the possibility of running international operations from the city. "In view of the delayed international operation with fliers of other countries taking a lot of time to finalize where to start the operation from Bhubaneswar, Indian carriers can be asked to," said Panda. The Union minister said the Air India flight going to Port Blair would be asked to fly to Phuket, Thailand, to begin with, he added.
Earlier, former chief secretary J K Mohapatra had sent a letter to the Union civil aviation ministry by tagging a request from Fly Dubai to run its flight from Bhubaneswar. Mohapatra, in the letter, had also requested not to treat Bhubaneswar international airport as a 'hub and spoke' (facilitating Bhubaneswar not for direct flight but using it as stop gap) model. "The 'hub and spoke' model will hit business travelers, professionals and tourists," the letter said.
Panda said the Union minister also discussed regarding exploring helicopter service within the state for flying to tourist destinations. "The Union minister was willing to extend help to start helicopter service to go to the tourist circuit within the state," said Panda.
In January, Biju Patnaik Airport director Sharad Kumar had written to 20 airlines to gather at the regional office of Airport Authority of India in Kolkata to discuss international operations. The airlines invited to the meeting were Fly Dubai, Air India, Spice Jet, Thai Airways, Go Air, Indigo, Silk Air, Air Asia (India), Air India Express, Fly Emirates, Air Arabia, Sri Lankan airlines, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Gulf Airlines, Etihad Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Air Costa and ABC Airways. However, none of them has started operations.
"Since the state government has already reduced the VAT on air turbine fuel (ATF) from 20 per cent to five per cent, we hope fliers will be interested to operate from here," said the director.