Airport scrambles to maintain international tag

CHANDIGARH: With only one flight connecting it to a foreign destination, the Chandigarh international airport is scrambling to keep up with its international tag.

Airport scrambles to maintain international tag

Kaveesha Kohli
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, November 26

With only one flight connecting it to a foreign destination, the Chandigarh international airport is scrambling to keep up with its international tag.

Sharjah is now the only international destination connected to Chandigarh as IndiGo Airlines has suspended its flight to Dubai for two months, beginning December 14. Last week, Air India also suspended a morning flight between Chandigarh and Delhi till January.

In fact, in the past, several flights from the airport have been cancelled.

In 2018, an Air India flight to Bangkok was cancelled. In 2019, connectivity to several domestic destinations — Jaipur, Lucknow and Indore — was lost as Jet Airways shut down operations.

IndiGo Airlines is also set to discontinue its Kolkata-Chandigarh-Srinagar flight, cutting off direct air connectivity between Kolkata and Chandigarh completely.

Another flight — between Hisar and Chandigarh — launched on September 3 under the Civil Aviation Ministry’s ambitious UDAN scheme, operated for just two weeks.

“Why this happened, we can’t say, it is up to the Haryana Government,” said airport spokesperson Prince Dildar. According to sources, IndiGo and Air India flights have been cancelled due to frequent disruptions during winter.

“The Air India flight to Delhi served as a connecting flight to other destinations. If the flight from Chandigarh is four hours late, then the passengers will miss the connecting flight. So this was done to facilitate the passengers who can now use other modes of transport,” said a source.

The airport authorities, however, vehemently denied that poor visibility or the possibility of fog was behind the cancelations.

“We are now a 24-hour airport with the CAT-11 Instrument Landing System. Operations are now permitted in a visibility of 800 metres, while earlier this was 1,200-metres. We have spoken to IndiGo. This is a result of the airline’s internal decision making and has nothing to do with the airport infrastructure,” said Dildar. A source, managing the operations of an airline at the airport, however, called the state of infrastructure there “abysmal.”

“There is jungle raj in the name of infrastructure here and the authorities are reluctant to help out the airlines. Sometimes the runway is unavailable and at other times, the bay is unavailable. There are problems with the check-in counter too,” he said.   

Problems with scheduling of flights and access to flight plans was also an issue, he said.   

Vested interests?

The Chandigarh airport’s new terminal was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 and was developed at a cost of Rs 1,400 crore — with another Rs 500 crore spent on upgrading various facilities on its premises.

Soon after its launch, a PIL was filed by the Mohali Industries Association in the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking why the international airport did not have any international flights.

ML Sarin, senior advocate and amicus curiae in the case, said: “It is very unfortunate that this has happened. The airport is CAT-11 now and Rs 2,000 crore has been spent on its development. I will take up this issue with the court and only then we’ll know the reasons behind the cancellations.”

Sarin said the Union Government and the state governments needed to take proactive steps to invite airlines to fly from the airport. Sarin also alluded to the long-standing allegations that the Chandigarh airport was suffering due to “vested interests of people in Delhi” — a claim made by then Punjab Advocate General Ashok Aggarwal in court. Later, the HC, too, had acknowledged the possibility of vested interests, pulling up the Centre for attempting to “abandon” the airport.

According to Sanjiv Vashisht, a member of the airport advisory committee, the Chandigarh airport has not been allowed to grow by entities, who wish to profit from the Delhi airport’s rocketing traffic.

As president of the Mohali Industries Association, it was Vashisht who had filed the PIL in the HC. According to him, Chandigarh’s connectivity to parts of Europe, Malaysia and Hong Kong would be immensely profitable to local traders apart from causing the city’s IT industry and tourism to grow manifold.

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