DIBRUGARH, May 3 � The recent mega earthquake in Nepal has once again proven to the world that in times of crises, a good airport is an absolute necessity for swift and efficient rescue and relief operations. As Assam and the Northeast is on the threshold of the �next big one�, the area�s preparedness to minimize the aftermath of nature�s fury cannot be understated.
It is to meet the rescue and relief challenges that a good airport in a 15,000 square kilometre hexagon is absolutely essential. Assam has just two civil airports, one at Borjhar (Guwahati) and the other at Mohanbari here. The Lilabari airport at North Lakhimpur is also there as a civil infrastructure, but it is not serviced by any commercial airline nowadays. The airports at Jorhat, Silchar and Tezpur are defence establishments, with small civilian sheds to meet the commercial flight-related requirements.
While Guwahati�s LGB Airport at Borjhar is fairly well equipped, and more development is currently under way, the Dibrugarh Airport is yet to be fully equipped with adequate runways, taxiways, modern landing support systems and a proper freight handling system. The airport here has plans to expand, but is awaiting acquisition of land for both airport infrastructure upgrade and lengthening of the main runway. Both the Dibrugarh civil administration and the Indian Air Force (it has a helicopter facility just beside the airport) are found lacking in cooperating with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to help enlarge facilities at the Dibrugarh Airport.
Though unconnected with this story, it needs to be mentioned here that there is a huge public demand in Assam to name the Dibrugarh Airport after Dr Bhupen Hazarika. Many citizens do refer to the Dibrugarh Airport as �Dr Bhupen Hazarika Airport� already.
The Tribhuvan International Airport at Kathmandu and its limited facilities should be an eye opener for the Indian authorities to rise to the occasion and take up the case of the Dibrugarh airport development on a top priority basis. While this would help in the fulfilment of the AAI�s long term objective to upgrade the airport here to a full scale international airport, disaster mitigation would also be largely achieved by this.
As the city is a nerve centre of communication and health services in the Northeast, a better airport would help disaster mitigation planners and the civil administration. For the next big quake the people in the region dread of may not be too far away. One should at least be prepared to meet the challenge, as and when it comes.