Thiruvananthapuram: The state government on Wednesday assured free flights home to expatriates from the state working in the Middle-East who have not been able to visit their kin for a long time.
Announcing this after the weekly cabinet meeting, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told media persons that with the government's dream project Air Kerala still hanging fire on account of existing aviation rules in the country, "we have decided to move forward on our own".
"The whole purpose of Air Kerala was to charge reasonable air fares from the Kerala diaspora. We all know that the numerous airlines operating the route are just fleecing passengers from the Middle-East," he said.
"Numerous requests to relax rules and thereby allow Air Kerala to take wings neither moved the previous UPA government nor the present central government. So we decided that we will fly our people from the Middle-East, who have not come home for long, for free," the chief minister said.
"For this, our Diaspora Minister K.C. Joseph has got in touch with various Kerala associations in the Middle-East to prepare a list of people who have not returned home for 10 years, seven years and five years.
"Some airlines have offered us free seats, while we have now got sponsors who have offered to help charter flights to bring these people who are unable to meet the high air fares," Chandy added.
The chief minister said he recently came across a person who was not able to come home for even his daughter's marriage. "Even though his friends were willing to foot his airfare, he sent that money to his family to be used for the marriage expenses."
Even though there were people ready to provide funds to launch Air Kerala, it is yet to take off because of the present aviation rules that require an airline to operate for five years in the domestic sector and possess at least 20 aircraft before it can get permission to fly on international routes.