Kochi: Given the large number of Keralites who would offer it patronage, and given also the large number of them regularly fleeced by airlines, it is surprising that this idea took so long reaching fruition.

The proposal for the state's own airline is now moving in the right direction, Excise Minister K. Babu said. Besides a large number of tourists who travel to Kerala, which the state's tourism department advertises as "God's own country," there are also a large number of people from the state working in other parts of the country and the world, especially the Middle East.

Babu, who is also director and board member of the country's first private-public funded Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), said a decision to conduct a feasibility study on the launch of 'Air Kerala' was taken, and it would be set up as a venture of the state government, in collaboration with CIAL.

"CIAL chief V.J. Kurian has been asked to prepare the feasibility report and the airline will be set up as a venture of the state government and CIAL, with shares from the public, especially non-resident Keralites," Babu said.

"We decided to approach the prime minister when he is here next week to see that certain conditions are waived by the Centre, because to start international operations, the airline should have successfully operated in the domestic sector besides owning a stipulated number of aircraft," said Babu.

An airline of and for Kerala has been a pet project of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The matter was first raised when Chandy was chief minister between 2004-06. After he returned to office last year, serious deliberations on the start of an airline were taken up.

Middle East business honcho M.A. Yusuf Ali is another person who has been floating this idea and recently quit the board of Air India on the grounds that if he continues to be on that board, there would be a conflict of interest.

State Minister for Non-Resident Keralites K.C. Joseph said that this would be one of the major projects that would be presented at the session of non-resident Keralites (NRKs) at the "Emerging Kerala" investor meet to be held here Sep 12-14.

"We want the full support and confidence of the NRKs and besides this airline project, we are also pitching for a Middle East-Kochi shipping service basically aimed at the lower strata of those who are employed in the Middle East, who just cannot afford exorbitant air fares," said Joseph.


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