Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fly by night to Northeast

Fly by night to Northeast
JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY

New Delhi, May 30: Fliers to the Northeast need no longer worry about delayed flights getting inevitably cancelled after sundown because there are no night landing facilities in all but two airports of the region.

Delhi is planning to upgrade all airports in the region and make night landing possible in most of them. The Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi Airport in Guwahati, whose “international” status came minus the facilities, will finally undergo a makeover to match “international standards”.

Three greenfield airports will be set up in Sikkim, Itanagar and Kohima.

The government is also considering a proposal to relax norms to allow airlines operating in the Northeast to connect Guwahati to international destinations.

A senior official of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said the main problem for airlines and passengers travelling to the region was the short window period for flight operations. Apart from Guwahati and Agartala, no airport in the seven states has instrument-guided landing facilities, which means a commercial aircraft cannot land after 4 pm.

“We will have instrument-landing systems installed at both Lilabari and Silchar, among other places,” the official said.

The plan to upgrade Guwahati airport to “international standards” will be implemented over the next five years. The airport’s only international connection, an Indian flight to and from Bangkok, was scrapped because of low seat occupancy.

“Airlines may be permitted to provide connections out of Guwahati to neighbouring countries of Southeast Asia. Besides improving connectivity, this will contribute to the viability of airline operations in the Northeast,” the AAI official said.

For Sikkim, the AAI has drafted a greenfield airport project with a budget of Rs 340 crore. The Sikkim government will contribute about Rs 100 crore and provide land at Pakyong for the airport. Sikkim’s nearest air link at present is Bagdogra airport near Siliguri.

Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland will also get greenfield airports. The AAI has selected sites at Bandardewa, near Itanagar, and Chiethu, near Kohima, for the projects. Both these projects will be taken up during the eleventh Five Year Plan period.

Delhi also intends to set up a cold storage chain for the flower, vegetable and fruit businesses.

The cold storage depots will be set up in Guwahati, Lengpui (Aizawl), Umroi (Shillong) and also at the three proposed greenfield airports.

Another plan on the drawing board is to link three tourist destinations — Tawang(Arunachal Pradesh), Kaziranga and Majuli (Assam) — by air. Four defunct airports — Rupsi, Kamalpur, Pasighat and Tezu — will soon be resurrected.
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