UAE-India flights: Dubai-based businessman aims to launch Air Kerala for expats

The entrepreneur has invested a whopping Dh1 million for the domain name of the project, which has been shelved several times in the past

by

Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Tue 25 Apr 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 27 Apr 2023, 12:41 PM

A Dubai-based businessman is trying to revive an airline for expats from the Southern-Indian state of Kerala. Afi Ahmed, Founder of Smart Travels, said he is exploring multiple ways to make the project Air Kerala a reality. Last month, the entrepreneur paid another local company a whopping Dh1 million for the domain name airkerala.com.

“I was looking for a domain for my B2C project,” he said, speaking to Khaleej Times. “I wanted to launch an aggregator website, and I was looking for a catchy name when I saw that airkerala.com was available for purchase. I was shocked, because Air Kerala is a project that was announced by the Kerala government in 2005, and has been a hot topic among Keralites all over the world for almost two decades.”

A proposed airline by the Government of Kerala, Air Kerala was registered as a fully owned subsidiary of Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) in 2006. Aimed to provide respite to Keralites living in the UAE from sky-high ticket prices and a shortage of flight seats, Air Kerala has been shelved several times, despite being a widely discussed topic for years.

The domain name airkerala.com was bought by the domain selling portal Executive Bachelors.com, which operates under the UAE-based investment company 1971 in 2000. In 2005, the website was valued to be worth approximately Dh2.5 million. Since then, although several people have approached the company, this is the first time Executive Bachelors.com is selling the coveted domain name. “I have waited more than 20 years for the right client to come by,” said Sathar Al Karan from the company.

Meaningful impact

“When I did a feasibility study, I thought I was getting my money’s worth with the airkerala domain name,” said Afi. “I didn’t have to spend a penny on marketing. Everyone knew about Air Kerala. However, once I bought it, I realised that I have a once-in-a-lifetime chance of creating a meaningful impact. So now, I am trying to revive the airline.”

First floated by the Congress-led government, the project has been shelved as the ruling parties of Kerala changed. The airline has once again become the topic of discussion when, last month, Air India replaced several of its flights to Kerala with Air India express flights. At the time, local travel agencies had called the development disappointing and said it would be a setback for the Indian community, as Air India express does not have the capability to carry wheelchair-using and stretcher-bound passengers.

Afi said he has reached out to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is visiting the UAE on May 7. “I have emailed him and sent word through several prominent personalities,” he said. “I am hoping to get a positive response from him.”

Outpouring of support

Afi said that ever since he has announced his intention to revive the airline, he has seen an outpouring of support from the Malayali community in the UAE. “Several businessmen have approached me and pledged to contribute money to get the project running,” he said. “Also, airline industry experts have expressed solidarity with me.”

Afi said he was willing to handover the domain name to the Kerala government as long as the project takes shape. “I have also volunteered to work as a consultant for a year on the project for free,” he said. “I do not intend to make any profit from it. I know how much of a difference this project will make for all the Malayalis in the UAE. If I can play a role in making it happen, I want to do so.”

However, Afi said he has a backup plan, should none of his efforts work out. “If I am not able to meet the Kerala Chief minister or I fail to garner enough support by the end of next month, I will launch my aggregator service on the same domain,” he said. “But I sincerely hope that it won’t come to that, and Air Kerala will become a reality.”

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