Amritsar, April 8, 2021 (Yes Punjab News)
Punjabi Diaspora in Canada and NGOs in India have put forth the call for introducing direct air connectivity from Vancouver & Toronto to Amritsar in order to facilitate travel keeping in view of the yearlong 400th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Ninth Sikh Guru who was born at Amritsar.
Seeking direct connectivity with Amritsar ahead of the historic occasion, in a joint press release, Sameep Singh Gumtala, Global Convener of the FlyAmritsar Initiative and Anant Singh Dhillon, Convener (North America) FlyAmritsar & Associate Secretary Overseas Affairs for NGO Amritsar Vikas Manch from Canada said that the direct flights to Amritsar has been a long-pending demand of millions of Punjabis across Canada and Punjab.
Gumtala said that Amritsar will be the hub for celebrations of 400th Prakash Purab, with Punjab and Government of India already announcing many programs in India and abroad for the centennial celebrations. Lacs of devotees from India and abroad are also expected to travel for the year-long celebrations and the Punjabi community is reaching out to Prime Minister of Canada, their parliamentary representatives, and Government of India for direct flights.
We have sent a written representation to the Prime Minister of Canada, many MPs including the ones in Greater Toronto area, Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and concerned Ministers about this long pending public demand. Last year in March 2020, thousands of Canadian families were stranded in India due to pandemic related shutdown of air travel. It was estimated that the highest number of them among any other region (over 40,000) were stuck in Punjab at that time, said Gumtala.
Dhillon further added that the high demand for repatriation flights from Amritsar instead of Delhi was one of the main factors for Canadian Foreign Office to operate flights from Amritsar. During this time, over 7500 Canadians reached their home in Canada on more than 25 flights operated by Qatar Airways and Air India from Amritsar Airport in a period of less than 2 months.
The high average fares of $2800-3500 paid by 7500 plus stranded passengers for just one-way tickets to return to Canada from Amritsar, during the shutdown in April 2020, approximates to CAD $26 million or Rs.140 crores spent on fares alone. It also proved that Punjabis prefer Amritsar over Delhi for direct flights and also willing to pay higher fares. Also, from 2005-2008 Air India operated Amritsar-Toronto flight via Birmingham and according to reports, this was a profitable route, said Dhillon.
A petition has also been started by FlyAmritsar Initiative with the support of many Canadians to submit to MPs all over Canada. Mohit Dhanju, spokesperson of the FlyAmritsar Initiative and a resident of Surrey, Canada whose family was stuck for a while in Punjab during the pandemic induced lockdown has already gotten hundreds of signatures for submitting the letters to Members Parliament of his and other neighboring Constituencies of Surrey, Delta, Newton, Burnaby, Abbotsford to intervene and appeal to the PM of Canada Justin Trudeau to take personal interest in this matter.
Air India & Air Canada are currently operating direct flights from Delhi to Toronto / Vancouver. Constituents are requesting their MPs to reach out to the PM of India Narendra Modi, Ministry of Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Air India with the proposal to connect Amritsar with Toronto/Vancouver.
A demand is also made to the MPs to take up the business case with the Canadian flag carrier Air Canada for initiation of a new route from Canada to Amritsar, as and when the airline expands its global flight operations in the coming months, said Dhanju.
In a written request, Amritsar Vikas Manch President Manmohan Singh and Patron Dr. Charanjit Singh Gumtala from Amritsar have also urged PM of India and Minister of Civil Aviation for start of direct flights to Canada from Amritsar during the year-long celebrations, similar to the one in November 2019 to mark 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak when National carrier Air India flew a special painted livery of ‘Ek Onkar’ which means ‘The God is One’ on tail of one of its top model aircraft, for its maiden flight from Amritsar to London Stansted (UK).
AVM leaders added that this initiative by the Govt. of India was a unique example of peace, harmony and inclusiveness that reached across the World. The launch of this flight under the leadership of PM Modi was welcomed by Sikh and Punjabi community all over the World. This new flight will also benefit millions of travelers and send a message of goodwill around the World. The direct air link from Canada to Amritsar-Punjab has immense potential to bolster Indo-Canadian trade, commerce, tourism and bilateral relationships.