Karipur: For the first time, Air India Express (AIE) will operate special flights from Kozhikode and Kannur airports this year, for pilgrims travelling to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for the annual Haj pilgrimage.
Nearly 1.4 lakh pilgrims will visit Mecca in the coming months as the proceedings for commencing the Haj pilgrimage have entered the final stages, with the authorities designating the airline companies for the holy expedition from 21 airports across the country.
The airline is operating for government's Haj services for the first time, though it has conducted private services before.
The airline will operate the services with its Code-C (small body) aircraft.
Although the aircrafts will be smaller, the movement of pilgrims will be facilitated through three airports to ensure the smooth functioning of the Haj camps.
The camps are expected to be run without many hiccups, said C Muhammad Faizi, chairman of the state Haj committee.
The Air India Express will be deploying Boeing 737 aircraft, with a capacity to carry 186 passengers, from Kozhikode and Kannur. The tender stipulates to transport 6363 pilgrims from Kozhikode and 1873 persons from Kannur.
Given the passenger capacity of the aircraft to be deployed in the sector, the airline will have to operate 35 services from Karipur and 11 services from Kannur.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation has designated 15 days from June 7 to June 22 for conducting the pilgrimage operations. While the services from Kannur will require much lesser days to complete, the airline will have to run more than two services from Karipur on some of these days.
During the previous pilgrimage seasons, there were days when airline companies used to operate four to five services to meet passenger demand. It is also commonplace for the airlines, which have been awarded the Haj tender, to lease bigger aircraft for running the pilgrimage service.
If Air India Express deploys wide-bodied aircraft in the sector, the number of services will come down further.
Meanwhile, Saudi Airlines has won the tender for carrying 2448 persons for the pilgrimage from Kochi.