North-East airline to take off soon


Come 2009, the seven sister states in the North East will come closer with greater air connectivity.

The North-Eastern Council (NEC) has set in motion a process to run a commercial airline between the landlocked states of the region. A global tender for the proposed airline, floated in May, will close on June 30.

NEC adviser (T&C) MS Sodhi said the North-Eastern Council would give subsidy to make the commercial air service economically viable.

At least a dozen more airports would be constructed in the region during the 11th Five Year Plan in addition to the existing 11 airports, the official said.

Also detailed project reports to revive the non-functional airports like Rupsi, Kamalpur, Passighat and Tezu were being prepared by the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

“Though the tender process needs time and has to be approved by several ministries at the Centre, NEC intends to launch the air line service by January 1 next year,” Sodhi said.

The basic objective of the airline would be to provide air connectivity to all the state capitals in the North East as well as other airports in the region, including Bagdogra in north Bengal.

Further, it has plans to provide a schedule with a minimum frequency, which allows for travel from one destination to another as well as to utilise the existing airline schedules to provide connectivity on trunk routes.

The aircraft to be inducted in the new airline would be Jet or turboprop ones with short take-off and landing capability.

The carriers must have a minimum start-up capital of Rs 30 crore and operate at least four aircraft with a take-off mass of over 40 tonnes.

This has been a long-standing demand of all the seven state governments in the region, with Nagaland already buying helicopters for commercial service linking remote districts.

The proposed airline is expected to operate 400 flights every month connecting the region internally by the end of 2009.

A tender floated last year did not gain the kind of response the government had hoped for. Officials said the new tender was expected to bring in better offers.

The government is also considering a proposal to relax norms to allow airlines flying in the North East to connect international destinations from Guwahati airport.

According to AAI officials, the absence of night landing or instrument-guided landing facilities in most of the North East airports, it was difficult for commercial flights to land after 4 pm.

Eight airports are likely to get night landing facilities.

“A detailed project report is being prepared to set up a new airport in Sikkim at an estimated cost of Rs 340 crore. The Sikkim government will pay about Rs 100 crore and provide land at Pakyong,” they said. At present Sikkim depends on Bagdogra airport near Siliguri.

The AAI has also selected sites at Banderva near Itanagar and Chiethu near Kohima for new airports in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, respectively. Construction of these airports is likely to be taken up during the 11th Five Year Plan.

Airlines might be permitted to provide connections out of Guwahati to countries in South-East Asia. Besides improving connectivity, this could also contribute to the viability of airline operations in the North East, the NEC officials said.

Besides, the Centre also plans to study how to link some of the tourist destinations in the North East like Tawang, Kaziranga and Majuli island by air.