India flights grounded for lack of planes
Operator not licensed to sell tickets for route, CTA says
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Up to 700 travellers who have paid $1,099 or more for direct return flights to India during the Sikh festive season can expect refunds if a new air service cannot clear regulatory hurdles.
But the operator who has arranged a Boeing 747 for the service said he is determined to gain approval for a route that would get flyers to their destination in just 13 hours.
The Canadian Transportation Agency rejected a request by a subsidiary of Richmond-based Canadian Western Airlines to offer the weekly flight from Vancouver to New Delhi. The company has until 2 p.m. today to show it has stopped offering the service.
Canadian Western Vacations had contracted European Airlines of the U.K. to operate the service beginning Nov. 5, but the CTA officially turned the proposal down last week and ordered the tour company to stop selling tickets on the service immediately.
"We only found out late Friday and we're still not sure of the grounds for rejection," Canadian Western Airlines chief executive officer Mohamed Doma said in an interview.
"We'll talk to the CTA about what the issue is and get the issue resolved. There is certainly enough interest and support in the community to have this happen."
The CTA notice said Canadian Western Airlines is providing a service it is not licensed for. However, Doma said Canadian Western Vacations is a separate entity and there is no operational connection between it and the small regional airline service he founded two years ago to service Nanaimo and later Kamloops, Masset/Sandspit, Tofino/Ucluelet and Williams Lake.
The CTA said tickets for the India service carry a reservation number from the airline.
The only Air Canada flight from Canada to India departs from Toronto. Doma's proposed jumbo-jet service calls for a direct 13-hour flight from Vancouver, with a refuelling stop in Russia. Beginning in December, the service was also going to offer flights from Vancouver to Amritsar, the seat of the Sikh faith located in Punjab.
Changes in international airspace regulations have made the trans-polar routing possible, shaving hours off conventional flight times. Most travellers to India must connect through London, Toronto or East Asian cities.
Doma said about 700 tickets have been sold for the proposed weekly service so far and they will all be refunded if the flights don't proceed. He said prices range from $1,099 to $1,999.
But he insisted his company will look at all alternatives to making the service a reality and noted that Air Transat has expressed an interest in operating the weekly flights from Vancouver to India.
Doma said the November start-up is intended to help Sikhs from the West Coast visit India during the preferred homecoming season that lasts until March. This timing takes in religious observances like Diwali with its festival of multi-coloured candles at the Golden Temple of Amritsar.
Doma, a trained commercial pilot, compared his India service to CWA's initial route between Nanaimo and Vancouver airports.
"Where we go is where there is a monopoly," he said.