Thursday, June 1, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Air-Taxi service for Punjab
By P. P. S. Gill
Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH, May 31 —Punjab will soon have an air-taxi service linking some of its key cities and major destinations outside the state.

The Punjab State Industrial Development Corporation (PSIDC) has signed a memorandum of understanding with Vikram Aviation Pvt Ltd (VAPL) company of New Delhi which has further separately entered into a management and equity participation agreement with an Israel company, Messers TIL Defence Systems. The presence of the PSIDC will be only as a “facilitator” with 15 per cent share ( and not as an equity participation) under the assisted sector agreement.

To further work out the funding modalities and other issues involved, the Managing Director of the PSIDC, Mr S.S. Brar, has gone abroad at the invitation of TIL of Israel. He will visit some other countries as well, including France and the U.K.

According to the Secretary, Industries, Mr Ramesh Inder Singh, Punjab is to be developed into a “hub” for the proposed air-taxi service with Ludhiana as the base. In fact, the Punjab state infrastructure development board has already commissioned a study to the public sector undertaking , Infrastructure and Leasing Finance Company on feasibility of international airports in the private sector in Punjab.

Punjab has emerged as a transit centre for passengers as well as cargo traffic for the Middle East and Europe. The good news, Mr Ramesh inder Singh said, was that the Ministry of Defence has already given a “no objection” certificate for operation of civil flights from Halwara (Ludhiana) Airfield . This was part of a socio-economic package deal for the State.

Once the air-taxi service proposal is through Punjab’s key cities, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Chandigarh will be interlinked and also provide for a transit connection to New Delhi. In fact while abroad, Mr Brar will also study the quantum of the NRI traffic to and from Punjab. The expansion of Rajasansi Airport in Amritsar to an international level is part of the plan to air-link Punjab to the outside world.

Halwara airport, which has been preferred to the Sahnewal airstrip, will be used only when the private air company will construct civil wing away from the IAF installations and sensitive areas, civil flights will be operational only when this work is complete.

Recently, General Manager (South-East Asia) of the British Airways, Mr Alan F. Briggs , had expressed his willingness to operate international flights from Halwara. 

He hoped that for the success of the British Airways first and business class passengers would be available.

Tentatively named “Punjab Airways” taxi-service , the partners involved will sign an agreement with the Punjab civil aviation authority .

Informed sources told TNS that the issue of a zonal airline with 50 : 50 participation by the Indian Airlines and respective state governments is now a distinct possibility. This issue came up for discussion at the meeting of the standing committee of the northern zonal council held at Shimla on May 26, where there was a broad agreement among participating States to adopt the J and K feasibility study module.

The civil aviation ministry is already working on the zonal airlines proposal. Given the existing level of airfields and other facilities in the northern States a feasibility study by M/s Claremount Ferrand of New Zealand has suggested operation of a third line service, predominantly in the private sector. The government will have full control.

The benchmark aircraft for zonal airlinks which has been selected for the third level operations is Turboprop (50 to 70 seaters) and as well as a 50 seater regular Jet. The airline will operate flights in Punjab from Ludhiana and Amritsar. In next 20 years, the study pointed out, the air passenger traffic will increase four times and cargo by six times.

The contribution of the participating States in the proposed zonal airlines will be less than Rs 1 crore each.

The Centre is also planning to exempt sales tax and central sales tax on air turbine fuel for Turboprop aircraft. The Union Civil Aviation Secretary has already sent the proposal to Punjab for comments.

There is a demand from Punjab that Chandigarh Airport should also be upgraded to international airports standards. It serves as a ideal location for Himachal Pradesh as well. In fact a new airfield around Chandigarh in Ropar is not ruled out. The strategic location of Chandigarh even from defence view is considered ideal for Jammu and Kashmir as well.

If the civil wing is properly expanded and developed Chandigarh would be a favoured destination for NRIs and other passengers. Punjab has taken the lead and neighbouring States too have taken up the issue with the Civil Aviation Ministry on upgradation of Chandigarh Airport to international level.

Punjab, Mr Ramesh Inder Singh said had the potential and the existing airstrips could be further expanded and a new avenue opened to trade and business.

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