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29 Jul 2017

Gorkhaland stir grounds Bagdogra’s dream flight

TNN | Jul 29, 2017, Kolkata: Bagdogra airport's record run has been stumped by the Gorkhaland googlie. The airport at the foothills of the Himalayas, that had hit a purple patch in recent months with record number of passengers flying in and out, witnessed a growth slump as the agitation peaked in June. With the stalemate persisting, the decline this month has been more sharp.
Aviation industry sources said some airlines are even contemplating withdrawing some flights till normality is restored in the Hills. With 90% of flyers to Bagdorgra comprising tourists, the indefinite strike in Darjeeling and difficulty in access to Sikkim have led to flights losing a quarter of passengers.
According to sources, Bagdogra airport witnessed a 20% growth decline in June compared to May as the Gorkhaland movement resurfaced and rapidly turned volatile in the second week. While passenger figures did not register a decline in absolute terms, the pace of growth fell sharply. While flyers increased by 73% in May 2017 against May 2016, the growth dipped to 54% in June 2017 against the corresponding month last year.
Airlines expect July figures to be worse following a spate of cancellations as the impasse continues. Though the numbers will be known only by the end of the month, airlines sources said the passenger load had gone down by 25% in the first two weeks. Last year, July had recorded a passenger count of just over 1 lakh.
"July bore the brunt of cancellations. When trouble erupted on June 8, flyers did not cancel their tickets. Most of them rescheduled their holiday plans as cancellation at the eleventh hour would have resulted in huge deductions. Instead, holidayers chose to travel to Sikkim and later to Dooars. But when there was no sign of the strike being withdrawn, people began to cancel tickets booked for July and August," an airline official said.
Though north Bengal-bound trains during the Durga Puja vacation window between September-end and October-beginning are all choc-a-bloc, flight tickets are still available at rockbottom fares of Rs 2,500 to Rs 4,500. "If this situation persists, airlines will not be able to sustain multiple flights for long. It is a pity that this happened just at a time Bagdogra was recording the highest growth among Indian airports," another official said.
The sudden dip in traffic notwithstanding, airport director Rakesh Sahay is going ahead with plans to de-clutter the terminal and make it more efficient. "The airport is now ready to become baggage tag-free. We have 100% CCTV coverage in the security zone. Once DGCA gives the nod for trials, we will carry them out. I expect Bagdogra to do away with tags before Puja," he said. With 4,000 passengers checking in daily during peak season, instead of each machine handling 2,000 passengers, it will now be 1,330 passengers per machine, a 35% reduction in time.

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