Dubai businessman aims to revive low-cost Air Kerala project

Plans for airline were first announced in 2005 by the government of Kerala but the project was shelved several times

Businessman Afi Ahmed is pushing ahead with plans to launch Air Kerala. Photo: Afi Ahmed
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A businessman in Dubai has vowed to get long-held plans for a low-cost Indian airline off the ground, with a launch date soon to be announced.

Afi Ahmed, founder of Dubai travel agency Smart Travels, told The National he was working to revive Air Kerala, a project first announced by the Kerala state government in 2005.

He is aiming to raise investment to launch Air Kerala as a domestic airline in the southern Indian state before expanding operations to include the Gulf.

Mr Ahmed, originally from Kerala, had previously announced that he had purchased the domain name airkerala.com for Dh1 million.

I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a meaningful impact
Afi Ahmed

“Next month, I will formally announce the launch of Air Kerala,” he told The National

“The airline is a dream come true for non-resident Indians from Kerala. I really hope I can give wings to Air Kerala.

“I have approached all government entities for permissions. Even otherwise, I am planning to start this is a private entity with the support of NRI [non-resident Indian] businessmen.”

He claims he has already found investors and has handed the project over to consultants for a fiscal report.

“I also have a legal team that is looking into other formalities,” he said.

“We will raise an initial amount of Rs100 Crores [about Dh45 million]. The plan is to launch a domestic carrier in Kerala in the first phase and later expand it as an international airline operating in the Gulf-Kerala sector.

“We cannot reveal more details at this stage. We will decide on the type of carrier and number of flights depending on approvals.”

Aiming to cut costs for passengers

“The idea is to serve the expat community reeling under sky-high airfares,” Mr Ahmed added.

“We will announce the details formally next month.”

Air Kerala was first proposed by the government of Kerala in 2005 and the airline was registered as a fully owned subsidiary of Cochin International Airport Limited in 2006.

Though it was announced with much fanfare and was touted as one of the most popular and ambitious projects to support Keralites living abroad, the project was shelved several times by successive governments.

There are more than one million people from Kerala living in the UAE alone, and the south Indian state has one of the largest expatriate populations in India.

According to the Kerala Migration Survey, the state has more than 2.1 million migrants, the majority living in Gulf countries.

Affordable airline

Surging airfare costs during the Eid holidays have highlighted the demand for cheaper air travel.

Plane tickets to Kerala increased up to tenfold in price on certain dates, with many families unable to fly home to be with their families.

Suhail Kuthirodi, general manager of Smash Tours and Travels in Dubai, said Air Kerala would give a boost to Keralite communities living abroad if it goes ahead as planned.

“Kerala has the largest expat population and the small state has four international airports. Currently, there are not enough services to cater to the demand,” he said.

“It is a great initiative because people should be able to travel home at affordable rates. If airlines can offer good rates during off-peak season, it means they can run the business successfully without having to charge exploitative rates. But unfortunately they are doing so.

“Air Kerala will be a game changer in the industry if they put people’s interests first.”

Mr Ahmed says he is already overwhelmed by the support he has received from community members.

“Several businessmen have already approached me and offered their support. Funding will not be an issue,” he said.

“I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a meaningful impact. And I am going ahead with it.”

Updated: June 28, 2023, 9:08 AM