With commercial operations having ground to a halt, Kochi-headquartered low-cost carrier Air India Express has launched all-cargo operations for the first time in its 15-year-old history. The airline, which does not have a cargo fleet, is employing its Boeing 737-800NG passenger aircraft for the purpose.
It plans to export perishables to major destinations in the Gulf region from mainly Kerala and two airports in Tamil Nadu, along with Mumbai and Mangaluru.
Though the lockdown has hurt the aviation sector financially, the airline said the move ensures utilization of aircraft and
reduces maintenance costs due to extended grounding. The operation is also aimed at helping farmers service their export markets. The airline said it will operate the service at a reasonable charge considering the current economic conditions.
The inaugural flight, on Thursday, transported around 13.5 tons of fruits and vegetables from Thiruvananthapuram to Sharjah, UAE. The airline has since operated three such flights, one each from Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram to Sharjah. The first service to Kuwait took off from Kozhikode on Tuesday.
“Air India Express has always been committed to support the export of perishable goods, but that was mainly along with the baggage in passenger flights. With the lockdown, our fleet has been grounded and we thought of putting it to some use. We are operating from all airports in Kerala, except Kannur, which is yet to start cargo operations, to various Gulf points. These services have been extended to Chennai, Trichy and Mangaluru. This helps our farmers who are facing hurdles due to the decline in price for their produce. Local banana and other vegetables from Kerala and Tamil Nadu are in good demand in Gulf. These operations are a great boon to our exporters too,” a top Air India Express official said