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14 Jan 2017

Packed air & ground

AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, Jan. 13: The number of flights operating out of Bagdogra airport will almost double in six months but the facility is short of infrastructure to handle increased passenger traffic.
According to the summer schedule (from March 26 to October 28) for the Bagdogra airport announced by the Airports Authority of India today, 22 to 25 flights will operate everyday in the first few months, instead of 13 to 16 planes at present. The number of daily flights will reach 29 in August.
But the airport authorities are worried over the existing infrastructure that is struggling to cope with even the present traffic.
"The terminal, along with conveyer belts and other facilities, can cater for around 400 passengers an hour at present. Still, we are handling 600 travellers on an average an hour. Going by the new schedule, the terminal will be teeming with 1,000 passengers an hour. Besides, we have just five aprons and the number will have to be doubled in March," said a source at the airport.
The airport will face the biggest challenge from 2pm to 4pm from March-end when 23 flights will be landing or taking off during those two hours.
"Once the summer schedule kicks in, we apprehend overcrowding and chaotic situations at the airport from 2pm to 4pm. In fact, the present terminal can ideally handle three flights, that is, three arrivals and three departures, in two hours. But according to the new schedule, we will have as many as 13 arrivals and 10 departures from 2pm to 4pm," said the source.
Rakesh Sahay, the Bagdogra airport director, said today that it was a matter of pride that the flight number would touch 29 in a few months. "We had expected more flights because of a rise in the number of passengers in the past few years. The AAI needs to augment the infrastructure at the airport on a war footing," said Sahay.
For infrastructure expansion, the AAI had sought 118 acre of land from the state government. But the state, as part of its non co-operation with the central government, said it was not possible to give that much land at one go. The response made the AAI scale down the project and seek around 50 acre.
But the state later made it clear that it wouldn't give land free-of-cost for the airport expansion.
"If we had got 50 acre, we could have started our work to set up a new terminal and allied infrastructure. The AAI is ready to spend around Rs 1,500 crore for Bagdogra. But we are yet to get land from the state," said an AAI official.
The Bagdogra airport authorities said the increase in the number of flights was on account of three factors: rise in passenger traffic, abolition of surcharge on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and the Instrument Landing System (ILS) that will be set up in a few weeks.
"The number of passengers from April to November in 2015 at Bagdogra was 7,07,945. The figure reached 9,15,626 for the April-November period in 2016. That means there were two lakh more passengers. Besides, Bagdogra is the only airport that doesn't have a surcharge imposed by the state government on ATF. If the airliners can refuel at Bagdogra, they will save a lot of money. These factors have contributed to the rise in the number of flights," said an AAI official.
He said the ILS was almost ready and the authorities were waiting for the approval of the Director General of Civil Aviation. "In the absence of the ILS, there are chances of flight diversion or cancellation because of inclement weather at Bagdogra, particularly during monsoon and winter. Once the ILS is in place, flights can operate at night and during low visibility," said the official.
Stakeholders of tourism industry are elated over the development. "It is nice to hear that a person from Calcutta or Delhi can reach Bagdogra so early in the day and leave in the late afternoon and the number of daily flights will increase to 29 by August. Such services would bring in more tourists to north Bengal and we can make their itineraries flexible," a travel agent, Sandipan Ghosh.

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