Indian Haj pilgrims can now land directly at Medina


New Delhi : Indian Haj pilgrims can now fly straight to Madina, 485 km from Makkah, with Saudi Arabia allowing Indian carriers to operate scheduled air service to the holy city – the first for any country.

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The permission for Madina was granted after civil aviation officials from India and Saudi Arabia met in Jeddah after six years to review their bilateral civil aviation pact and add more destinations and seats for the respective carriers.

More than 150,000 Indians undertake the annual Haj pilgrimage.

“It has been decided to increase our existing traffic entitlement from 8,500 seats to 20,000 seats per week with immediate effect,” a senior official of India’s civil aviation ministry said.

“Saudi carriers can now also fly to Calicut (Kozhikode), Lucknow and Bangalore, while our airlines have been given additional permission for Madina, in addition to the existing destinations of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam,” the official said.

Designated Saudi carriers already have permission for landing at Delhi, Kochi, Hyderabad and Chennai.

Significantly, Saudi Arabia is the first country in the Middle East and Gulf to have scheduled access to Kozhikode, the official explained.

“Likewise, India is the first country to be granted access to operate to Madina on a schedule basis,” the official added.

Both the sides also decided to liberalise their air cargo services. “There will be no restriction in terms of frequency and point of call for operating cargo services.”

Ministry officials said the new agreement would help both countries to add fresh capacities and services on the India-Saudi Arabia route, presently constrained by the limitations imposed by the previous bilateral pact.

“This will also be in the interests of air travellers who presently have to go via third countries paying a higher tariffs to visit Saudi cities.”