Air India flights from Birmingham to Amritsar are finally here. Jas Sansi was at Birmingham Airport to enjoy the celebrations. He explains a little background on how this ten year campaign came to fruition.
Ten years ago, I was reading about the frustrations shared by the Punjabi community in Birmingham and the West Midlands. It concerned the lack of a direct flight from Birmingham Airport to India.
Air India had recently pulled out of Birmingham and focused their attention on London Heathrow. Passengers from the Midlands who wished to travel to India had options but none were ideal. A number of services appeared over the years, they came, failed to satisfy customer expectations and disappeared.
At the time, I had started to network intensively in Birmingham in order to support the photography company I had launched. The words ‘credit crunch’ had recently entered popular vocabulary. The world was reeling from the financial crisis of 2008.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown organised an international summit in London where global leaders including US President Barack Obama gathered to formulate a solution.
The UK was a strong partner in the EU. It was a long time ago.
From networking, I met the leader of Birmingham City Council, Mike Whitby. We got on straight away, he was passionate about the city and saw its future in reaching out to places like the Middle East, India and the Far East.
I explained the frustrations of a lack of a direct flight from Brum to India. It was something he was sympathetic with.
It was Mike who organised a petition and its launch at Asha’s Restaurant in Birmingham who kindly sponsored the event. Mike Whitby gathered the press and business leaders from the region. It was a day I will always remember.
The petition was launched, it was distributed to local media such as Raj FM Radio Station. My mom, Gurdev Kaur, took it around to local Sikh Temples to collect signatures. I had no idea what we were doing.
I wrote a number of articles which regional press picked up and ran. I appeared on Raj FM and explained what we were trying to achieve. And every few days, I would collect the signed petitions.
The petitions included names and addresses so were data rich. An Indian bank called me in and offered to support the campaign financially in return for the data gathered. I was uncomfortable with the ethics of this proposal. People had signed the petitions in good faith, not to have their personal details sold on. The campaign wasn’t an expensive one other than time. I declined the bank’s kind offer.
The signatures were collected, 25,000 in all. These were collated, packaged up and flown to India by local business man Peter Matthews who presented them to the Aviation Minister.
As a result of the lobbying, Air India returned to Birmingham in 2013 four years after the campaign started. The service was Birmingham Airport to New Delhi. A connecting flight allowed passengers to continue their journey to Amritsar.
Since the service resumed, it has been used by 600,000 passengers. This represents £330 Million of business our region reclaimed from London. Birmingham Airport has enjoyed record growth and the number of flights between the two countries has continued to grow.
The most recent development was an agreement to fly direct from Birmingham to Amritsar. This is a very welcome development given the 7 hours 30 minute journey between the two cities.
This service was launched on Tuesday 20th February 2018. I received an email from Birmingham Airport on Monday 19th to attend the ceremony. Thankfully my diary commitments for that day allowed me to attend.
It was a pleasure to see the campaign finally come to completion. Media coverage was very low key. Media were either not invited or they chose not to attend. I rang The Asian Today newspaper on the way to the airport and they knew nothing about it.
I always have my camera with me, I took a number of shots shown here. It was a great launch. Gurcharan Mall made it an event to be remembered as he filled the terminal at Birmingham Airport with the roar of his Dhol drum accompanied by his band.
A diva was lit by Birmingham Edgbaston MP Preet Gill, accompanied by Air India personnel and Consul General of India for Birmingham, Dr Aman Puri. Amrick Ubhi represented Nishkam Centre and a number of business leaders attended to support the event. Mr William Pearson represented Birmingham Airport.
The incoming Air India flight was welcomed by this reception with all disembarking passengers presented with a red rose. A photo call was organised with the flags of both countries and a celebration cake was cut.
A great day for Birmingham, in a week where the city hosted a four day celebration for the Chinese New Year. Both India and China will be key to success in the UK as we approach the departure lounge of the EU.
I would like to thank everyone who was instrumental in bringing about this direct flight. There are those who are high profile but equally there are those who toiled in the background without any expectation of thanks or recognition.
I pay tribute above all to Bhai Sahib Ji Dr Mohinder Singh from Nishkam Centre who was a constant source of inspiration throughout the campaign.
To everyone who played a part in delivering this result for our city region, I would like to put on record my deepest heartfelt thanks.
We achieve so much when we work together.
Full set of images from the launch of Birmingham to Amritsar Air India Service: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jassansi/albums/72157693750401935
Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, a trustee of LoveBrum and columnist for The Asian Today.
@jassansi 07930 837 505