Saturday, November 23, 2019

Posted at: Oct 17, 2019, 7:17 AM; last updated: Oct 17, 2019, 7:17 AM (IST)

Time to live up to the flyers’ expectations

Lobby in Delhi

  • Civil flight operations started from Chandigarh in the seventies, for which a separate civil enclosure was constructed.
  • State carrier Indian Airlines was the first to start Chandigarh to Delhiflight in 1970.
  • Civil and military aircraft jointly operated from Chandigarh, where the runway and air traffic services were being controlled by the Indian Air Force.
  • It appears there is a strong business lobby in Delhi, which does not want Chandigarh to take their slice of business.
  • With minimal international flights, the airport has remained underutilised.
Time to live up to the flyers’ expectations
As many as 30 per cent of the international travellers at the Delhi airport come from Punjab. file photo

Wg Cdr J S Bhalla (Retd)

For the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nank Dev, Air India has announced a new flight between Stansted Airport and Amritsar, giving a clear miss to Chandigarh as a destination. Why the flight operators are hesitant to operate from Chandigarh is a mystery. The diaspora, which would visit India to participate in the celebrations at Sultanpur Lodhi would prefer Chandigarh as destination, their roots being in the city beautiful.

The Chandigarh Air Force Station came into existence some six decades ago, providing air support to the armed forces deployed in the hilly terrain in the Northern Sector. Those days, aircraft dominated the role of dropping supplies to forward areas. The warhorse played a significant role in airlifting men and war material during conflict with China in 1962.

The Chandigarh airport was upgraded to international airport in September 2015 and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but international flights did not commence immediately.

The judiciary frequently questioned the administration for the delay in introducing international flights from the airport, which was constructed at a cost of Rs 1,400 crore. It was on September 26, 2016, that the first international flight to Dubai was launched with fanfare, placing the tricity on the international map. Since the upgrade of the Chandigarh airport, only two international flights have been operating from this base. Air Indian Express is operating one flight from Chandigarh to Sharjah and another flight from Chandigarh to Dubai is being operated by Indigo. Four years have passed but no new international flight has been introduced from here.

The question on the mind of most air travellers is that when they would get to board a flight to London, Frankfurt, Sydney, Singapore and of course Canada from Chandigarh International Airport. As many as 30 per cent of the international travellers at the Delhi airport come from Punjab and most of the flyers would be happy to fly from Chandigarh, if given the option.

Indian Air Force, which controls the runway and provides ATS services at the Chandigarh airport, has upgraded the infrastructure. The runway has been extended from 9,000 to 10,400 ft to cater to the wide-bodied aircraft to operate from this base. The load bearing capacity of the runway has been enhanced. New taxi links have been added to reduce the occupancy of the runway. Old CAT-I ILS has been upgraded to CAT-II ILS. Now, the flight operations can take place even when the visibility comes down to 350 m. The ATC services, which had a limited watch hours earlier, are now available round the clock with night landing facilities .The unauthorised structures, which are 100 m away from the boundary wall are being demolished to provide better and safe flying environment. The local administration has removed butcheries, which were in proximity to the airfield, to eliminate the bird menace.

Now, Chandigarh International Airport has become an airport where wide-bodied aircraft, such as Airbus and Boeing 777 can operate smoothly, providing connectivity to USA, UK and Canada. Ironically, no flight operator has come forward so far to launch a new flight to foreign destinations.

The plea that flight operators are waiting for installation of ILS CAT-IIIB at the airport here is beyond any reasoning. There are a large number of international airports in the country, which do not have ILS CAT-IIIB equipment and still international flights operate from there.

It is disappointing that the airport authorities have failed to attract operators to launch new international flights even when the airport is fully equipped for global connectivity. Now, it is up to the Airport authorities to live up to the aspirations of the region’s flyers.


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