by ANDY STREET, Mayor of the West Midlands
I believe it is absolutely vital that a direct route to Mumbai is introduced in the West Midlands.
The region has very good links with India, not least in part due to business ties – including JLR, Rolls Royce, Enzen and JCB – and the strength of the diaspora.
But this relationship could be strengthened even further by a direct flight between India’s largest city and Birmingham Airport.
Yes, there is already a route between Birmingham and Delhi, but I truly believe a Mumbai link is needed.
Currently the 500,000-strong Indian community in the Midlands need to travel around 160km south to Heathrow in London to fly directly to Mumbai. This, in my opinion, is unacceptable.
A new Midlands route would allow thousands of families to reconnect much easier.
On my visit to India last year I lobbied the Aviation Minister over this exact issue. On top of this I have also written to both the minister and to the chairman of Air India direct to further press the issue.
I told both of them that, as a former businessman myself, I believe there is a strong business case to be made for re-introducing the route.
Air India ran this exact route between 2005 and 2008 but struggled to make the required money to make it a profitable – and so inevitably the plug was pulled.
But the key difference now is that the Boeing 777-200s that used to run the route have been replaced by B787-880s – a plane that has around a 20 per cent better fuel burn.
This 20 per cent makes all the difference, as it can turn the previously marginal route into a profitable one.
Many people have asked me why I am petitioning Air India to start the route and not another airline like BA or Virgin. Quite simply Birmingham airport has no permanently-based long-haul carrier, so we are reliant on airlines from destination routes to operate such services. Air India already run the Delhi route and are an established and trusted brand. To me, they are the obvious choice to introduce this much-needed route to Mumbai.
As well as my lobbying, Birmingham Airport have also been making the case. They are visiting India later this month to further press the arguments to both the Indian government and Air India.
I am working hard in collaboration with Birmingham Airport to secure this route, but I need the public’s help in making this route a reality again.
I launched the petition as it is imperative that the public make their views known on this route. To pass the 1,000 signature mark is great – but we need many, many more.
Consider this a call to action. If you, like me, want a Birmingham to Mumbai route introduced, then visit change.org and sign the petition.
The more Air India and the Indian government see the strength of feeling behind this, the harder it will be for them to ignore the calls to introduce a direct route between Birmingham and Mumbai.
To sign the petition, go here: https://www.change.org/p/air-india-we-need-a-direct-flight-to-mumbai-from-birmingham