SILCHAR, June 25 - The suspension of trains in the Silchar-Guwahati route coupled with the increasing number of road accidents on the Badarpur-Jowai section of NH-6 has once again refreshed the need for more flights and improved air connectivity in Barak Valley. But the jigsaw between the Indian Air Force, Airport Authority of India and the airline agencies over increasing the number of flights, duration of watch hours and expansion of the airport together with other allied facilities is adding to the woes of the people struggling to find solutions for the recurring communication crisis.
Nand Kishore Deoli, the new director of Airport Authority of India (AAI) at Silchar airport has a seemingly rhetorical view of the situation. In his words, if the Government of Assam extends cooperation by providing land, they are ready to construct a new airport with all the modern facilities and even the place can be made an excellent tourist hub for the people. Talking to this correspondent, Deoli said, �Silchar airport is the second biggest airport in the State after Guwahati. It has all the facilities including the necessary ones required for night landing of flights. We have 10 hours of �watch hour� now within which maximum of 16 flights can be operated. If the Indian Air Force allows an extension of the watch hour beyond 4 pm, we can have flights here at night as well.� He was enthusiastic about turning the vicinity into a tourist destination for the people coming from other parts of the country and even abroad. �This place is naturally blessed and can become an excellent tourist destination. It has the potential to become a better airport than Shillong,� Deoli opined. In his words, despite controlled by the Indian Air Force, the airports of Chandigarh and Pune have all the facilities. When asked about the possibilities of the new rate of air fares as mentioned in the new Civil Aviation policy recently announced by the government, the Airport Director said that the provisions of the new air fare shall only come into effect if the airline companies operating their flights here agree to the terms and conditions of the policy. He hoped that if implemented, the new policy shall be able to usher good days for the people.
On the other hand, Jayanta Dutta, station manager of Air India carrying 144 passengers in the Airbus to Kolkata four days in a week and 44 passengers in its ATR flight to Guwahati three days in a week from the Silchar airport are of the view that the accommodation in the airport is insufficient to bear rush of passengers. �There is a single belt with only five counters for the two airlines. New airlines shall require separate arrangements and the security arrangements need to be intensified in the airport,� an Air India source said. Meanwhile, Debashish Borthakur, Silchar station manager of the private airline company Jet Airways said that they had two flights each for Guwahati and Kolkata and one more flight on the Silchar-Guwahati route at 5:40 pm was supposed to be introduced from June 18. It had permission from the DGCA and also the AAI. But due to the objection from the Indian Air Force particularly because of the watch hour limitation, the flight could be introduced. �We were told by the AAI that till June 17 no flights can be operated after 12 pm because of re-carpeting in the runway. Hence our flights scheduled at 12:45 pm and 3:40 pm to Guwahati and Kolkata had to be suspended. Later, the AAI communicated that the re-carpeting cannot be done because of wet weather. The flight schedules are prepared on a six month plan for summer and winter periods. We understand the crisis faced by the passengers. But besides the schedule, availability of flights is also a major issue,� the Jet Airways official maintained. However, the official quickly added to say that they have proposed flights to Imphal and Jorhat from Silchar which are likely to commence before Durga Puja this year.