Representational Image | Photo: Binoj PP/ Mathrubhumi
Kondotty: The Calicut International Airport's history took a significant turn with the departure of Air India Express flight IX 3031 from Karipur, carrying 145 pilgrims. This marks the first time that a narrow-body aircraft has been utilised for the Hajj service from Karipur.
The Hajj service was initially launched from Karipur in 2002. Air India's jumbo jet, capable of accommodating over 400 passengers, was the first wide-body aircraft to land at Karipur. At that time, the airport lacked the advanced security facilities available today, and the landing of such a significant aircraft without sophisticated technical systems required tremendous efforts from individuals like the then MP E Ahmed, union aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain, airport director Vijayakumar, and Air India manager Muthukoya.
From 2002 to 2014, Air India and Saudi Airlines operated Hajj services at Karipur exclusively using wide-body aircraft. However, in 2015, restrictions were imposed due to runway recarpeting, leading to a temporary ban on large aircraft operations. Consequently, the Hajj service, which relied solely on larger planes, had to be redirected.
Between 2015 and 2018, pilgrims under the State Hajj Committee departed for Hajj from Nedumbassery. Although the airport authorities were prepared to resume Hajj services from Karipur using aircraft capable of carrying up to 220 passengers, this plan did not materialise. It wasn't until 2019 that the Hajj service was reinstated at Karipur.
After the completion of the runway re-carpeting in December 2018, wide-body aircraft were able to return to Karipur. However, it required significant efforts to resume the Hajj services. In 2019, Saudi Airlines operated a Hajj service using an A330 aircraft that accommodated 300 passengers. Unfortunately, due to the plane crash in 2020, the ban on wide-body aircraft, and COVID-19 restrictions, the Hajj service from Karipur was once again halted.
Presently, Air India Express is operating the Hajj service using small aircraft while the runway re-carpeting is underway. The current aircraft, with a capacity for 189 passengers, carries 145 passengers, leaving 44 seats unoccupied. It is worth noting that compared to Kochi and Kannur, the cost of Hajj travel is the lowest for those departing from Karipur.