Sikh family buys Air Slovakia

SHauKeeN GaBRu

Chardi Kala
[FONT=ARIAL, Helvetica, Geneva][FONT=ARIAL, Helvetica, Geneva][FONT=ARIAL,]Air Slovakia, under London based Sikh family ownership, to fly to Amritsar from Europe.


How about some bhangra-pop at 35,000 feet in the air with tandoori chicken and makki-di-roti and sarson-ka-saag and a Punjabi girl welcoming you on board. This is no longer going to be a dream, as a London-based Sikh family is all set to give an airline that is all Punjabi.

When the first flight of Air Slovakia lands in Sikh holy city of Amritsar Saturday from Cologne in Germany, it would indeed be a proud moment for 56-year-old Harjinder Singh Sidhu. He is the proprietor of the three-aircraft airline, which he acquired only last week in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava. The airline has a 60-member staff.

Harjinder's son Riqbal 'Rocky' Singh told reporters here Friday the airline would ba a first of its kind with an all-Punjabi experience on the Amritsar-Europe route. Scores of Punjabis have immigrated to countries across Europe, Canada and the US. Hundreds of them fly in and out of the country every week, airline industry sources said.

It just happened to British passport holder Harjinder a few days ago when he realised that Air Slovakia, for whom he was the general sales agent in Britain, India and Italy, was not doing too well. "It was then that my father decided to invest in the airline. He said why not buy this airline?" Riqbal said here. The takeover of the airline by the Sidhu family was completed only last week.

He promised an all-Punjabi fare on board the flights saying it would have "true Punjabi flavour". Besides Harjinder as the chairman of the new airline, Riqbal, 30, and his sister Rimple, 31, are the directors.

The airline fare for the Amritsar-Birmingham sector would be Rs.23,000, Riqbal said. The airline's London Stansted to Amritsar flight, carrying its new 56-year-old owner, takes off Friday evening and will land at Amritsar Saturday morning.

The airline has three Boeing aircraft - two 757s and one 737 - in its fleet. Riqbal said the fleet size was expected to go up to nine by 2007-end by acquiring four Boeing 757 and two 767 aircraft.

The company wants to link places like Barcelona, Athens, Amsterdam, Glasgow, Paris and other European cities with Amritsar. Later destinations would include cities in Canada, Britain and Britain. The Indianised Air Slovakia with dedicated planes will fly to Milan, Bratislava, Birmingham, London and Cologne. Return ticket prices are expected to range from $530 to $1100.