After the established airlines closed its operations from the diamond city, a group of four Surat-based diamantaires (diamond traders) have planned to start an airline to connect Surat with Mumbai and other major cities of Gujarat by November this year.
The group has floated two aviation firms and purchased an aircraft recently while deals to buy more planes or to take them on lease are under way.
“This is the latest Surat model of business,” the group claims. And it is not for profit, but a service to cater the growing demand of business community as well as passengers across the state. “The proposed airline is not for earning profit, but a kind of service for the businessmen. Therefore, it is quite viable and this model is possible only in Surat since the city is known for turning scarcity into opportunity. The association is a part of this project,” said Dinesh Navadia, president of Surat Diamond Association.
The group recently purchased a six-seater aircraft (Seneca-V) for the purpose of renting it out as charter plane, besides using it as air ambulance in case of emergency. The aircraft lies at Bhubaneswar airport, waiting for mandatory permission. The group claims that it has sought permission to fly aircrafts from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and is in touch with the Gujarat government for assistance. The group has not named the proposed airline, but said it will be named after some diamond.
The group has floated two firms — Diamond Aeronotics Pvt Ltd and Global Avianotics Pvt Ltd —in Surat. The members of the group has been identified as Govind Dholakia of Shri Ramkrishna Exports, Sauji Dholakia of Harikrishna Export, Lalji Patel of Dharamnandan Diamonds and Lavji Badshah, who is also into real estate business. They all are major players of diamond trade in Surat.
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“We had similar plans five years back, but due to the advent of some airlines in Surat, such as Spicejet and Kingfisher, among others, we postponed the plan. Today, we are again at the same situation where Surat is not connected with Mumbai by air. We are facing huge demand for air connectivity. Considering this aspect, we are on the verge of flying airplanes,” said Ishwar Dholakia, who has been appointed as director of the two aviation firms.
Dholakia, nephew of Govind Dholakia, said that initially there will be a flight between Surat and Mumbai. Besides, there will be flights connecting Surat with major cities of Gujarat such as Ahmedabad, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, among others. There is also a plan to launch a flight between Surat and Antwerp, another major diamond hubs in Belgium via Dubai.
“We have figured out that for fifteen days in a month, the traffic between Surat and Antwerp has a huge potential to fly passenger as well as cargo planes. Most polished diamond is exported to Antwerp. As on today the traders have to go to Mumbai and then proceed further. That consumes a lot of time,” Dholakia said, adding that 50% of the staff have already been hired.
In fact, Surat-based diamantaires have been demanding good air connectivity for a long time. Over the past couple of years, most domestic airlines shut down their operations, citing less traffic as the main reason. Last year, captain G R Gopinath also shut down intra-state air service nine months after its launch.
One of the partners of the company and diamond merchant Savji Dholakia said, “We are four friends and have thought to start such airline services keeping in mind the emergency need for the people of Surat. We will get the delivery of the aircraft on June 10 and subsequently we will start the future course of action to start such services.”
“At present, we have purchased seven-seater aircraft and later, seeing the response, we will purchase more. We have also planned to purchase helicopter. Apart from emergency, the aircraft would be used by those who approach us for business or personal purposes. Surat is the economical capital of Gujarat. The city is well known in diamond industry and yet there is no emergency air flight services from Surat to other destinations in the country. So, we have purchased an aircraft. Money is not important for us. We wanted to serve the people of Surat,” he added.