AMRITSAR: 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 Teg 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.