Calgary's South Asian community pushes for direct flight to India
A petition has already gathered thousands of signatures
Calgary's South Asian community is backing a petition calling for a new direct flight that would connect the city to the Indian city of New Delhi.
Right now people travelling to India have to fly via Vancouver or Toronto, which can be a struggle for seniors and young families.
Mukal Sharma, who started the petition, said support in the prairies has been growing for some time and he's hoping his petition will attract the attention of airlines like Air Canada or Westjet, making them take a look at the viability of a new route.
So far, 7,239 people have signed the petition.
Sharma said a direct flight would reflect the growing Indian population in Alberta and Saskatchewan, strengthening business ties between India and Western Canada as well as attracting new immigrants and tourists travelling in the other direction.
"There's a rapidly growing Indian diaspora. We're talking about a quarter of a million people here in Alberta already and then we have Regina and Saskatoon," said Sharma. "There's definitely a need and we hear the stories from people about taking connecting flights."
"It's a long overdue need and the response has been amazing. People are commenting saying this should have been done by now," he said, adding that if a Delhi flight isn't possible then Mumbai would also be a good option for travellers.
Sharma said in the coming years as COVID-19 becomes more manageable and less prevalent there should be a surge in travel.
He said a direct flight could allow Alberta's film industry to forge new relationships with Bollywood producers and filmmakers along with opening the door to other international business opportunities.
"There are a lot of opportunities," he said. "And India has attracted people through the ages as a spiritual capital and it could be an opportunity for people in the prairies to visit and explore India."
Signatories of the petition like the idea of a smoother travel experience.
"There's such a big, vibrant South Asian population in Calgary and neighbouring cities and there's so much travel that goes in in this community," said Kariena Sethi.
Sethi said South Asian families travel frequently between India and Canada.
"Seniors make up such a high percentage of the population within the South Asian community and for them to have a way to travel directly would be very beneficial," said Sethi. "It's a very big thing for the community."
It comes down to profit
Karl Moore, an airline industry expert and associate professor with the Desautels School of Management at McGill University, said it all comes down to airlines making a profit.
"Is there enough people to fill the planes for the airlines to make money from it? The central questions are load levels, how big the plane is and can you make money from the flight?"
Moore said airlines use International Airline Transport Association (IATA) data to look at how many people from Calgary are connecting in Vancouver and Toronto on their way to India to determine if a direct flight might be viable.
He said a petition might help make airlines take a fresh look at a route.
"If there are thousands of people signing a petition then that's probably a good sign and there might be a market," he said. "That may well lead to them thinking more about it but they'll look at what is the actual demand."
Air Canada said the Indian subcontinent is an important market for them — both the visiting friends and relatives and the long-standing cultural and business ties between Canada and India.
The airline explained in an emailed statement to CBC News that it bases its decisions on new services looking at factors including demand point-to-point in both directions, demand seasonality, connection demand and opportunities to and from other destinations served at a hub airport, along with other economic factors including aircraft and resource availability.