Editor’s note: Steve S. Rao is a Council Member At Large and Former Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Morrisville and an Opinion Writer for WRAL Tech Wire. He served on the Board of the New American Economy, now the American Immigration Council, and on the NC League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force. He is a regular contributing writer to WRAL TechWire.
MORRISVILLE – I wanted to thank the Hindu Society of North Carolina, North Carolina Association of Indian Americans, and community leaders for working with me to host RDU Airport CEO, Michael Landguth and his team in Morrisville recently to discuss international flight service recruitment and the potential for direct flight service to India. It was a very engaging and productive discussion and we also taking thank special guests RTRP, Ryan Combs and Senator Jay Chaudhuri for being with us along with EDPNC Board Member, Vimal Kolappa and my colleague, Morrisville Council Member, Satish Garimella, an immigrant from Mumbai, India.
Nearly 200 people turned out for a town hall meeting in Morrisville to hear RDU’s CEO and an air service consultant explain how the airport goes about persuading airlines to establish flights to new destinations.
Most came with the hope that growing ties between North Carolina and India would be enough for an airline to begin flying between the two. India accounts for the second highest number of foreign-born residents of North Carolina, after Mexico, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Economic Development Momentum
Senator Jay Chaudhuri and Ryan Combs both reminded the sold out audience, that the economic ties between North Carolina and India continue to grow, leading to more jobs and investment in the Triangle. As I mentioned in my last blog, the community’s growth has helped persuade Indian companies such as Infosys and Bharat Forge to locate in the Triangle. With a North Carolina office in Bengaluru, India, quicker, more convenient travel to India could boost our economic development momentum with the 5th largest economy in the world, India.
LONG LAYOVERS AND INCONVENIENCE
Speaking from personal experience, EDPNC Board Member Vimal Kolappa revealed that his wife and other friends, have had lay overs as long as 12 hours at JFK Airport, making their connecting flight to India. Others in the audience expressed the same concerns and indicated that shortening these lay overs, or reducing the time it takes to India many from the community to see their parents, families, and would have helped them say good by to loved ones during the pandemic. A direct connection to the Middle East via Dubai, could also significantly shorten the time it takes to get to India as well.
How many fly to India?
Using data provided by airlines, RDU revealed how many people fly from the region and where they’re going. In 2019, at the pre-pandemic peak of air travel from the Triangle, about 75 people a day flew to India, said Howard Mann of the consulting firm Campbell-Hill Aviation Group. Some flew nonstop to London or Paris and made connections, while others went through places such as Washington or New York. Post-pandemic, that number has dropped to about 50 a day, Mann said.
However, during the event, data was shared and presented which did validate that there are many more in the Indian community interested in traveling to India to the tunes of thousands. The data was the result of a Social media and Whats App Poll, conducted by Amar Solassa, which revealed that the number of Indian Americans interested in travel is much higher then the data being received by RDU from the airlines.
The poll results have been shared with RDU Airport.
After the meeting, I spoke to Michael Landguth and we both agreed that this meeting has resulted in short term, medium term and long term goals to address the needs for a quicker route to India.
- Short term
Work with the airlines and ask them to review their connecting times coming and going to India
- Medium Term
Work to add another Europe hub providing additional competition to India
Work to add connectivity to the Middle East which would provide a gateway to India
- Long term (10 year +) continue to monitor the demand to India in hopes we can secure non-stop service.
CONNECT TO INDIA TASK FORCE
I am leading efforts with Michael Landguth to establish a Task Force which will meet with RDU Airport once or twice a quarter so we can work with the Airport on both the short term, medium term, and long term goals of our efforts.
Please stay tuned for the announcement of this Task Force, coming in the next few weeks.
Thanks again to all who came out to the meeting and of course, we look forward to leveraging on the economic, political and cultural transformation our Indian Community is bringing to the Triangle Region, and to come together, stay together and work together to strengthen and grow our connections between North Carolina, and the worlds’ largest democracy, India and the 5th largest economy in the world.
At the end of the day, I remind each of us that when the planes take off every day from RDU, there is no limit to where they can fly to in the country or the world if they have enough fuel, the right destination in mind and the crew to get there. There is no question that in our state of first flight, Governor Cooper is very lucky to have as part of his crew, the Indian American community of North Carolina, who is transforming the state every day in so many ways.
Fasten your seat belts.
Prepare the Cabin for lift off.
We are ready to get to work on making this Connection to India Happen.