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Hills toast flight to Nepal

Siliguri, Oct. 2: The Centre has given the go-ahead for an international flight between Bagdogra and Kathmandu, throwing open the door of opportunities for the trade and tourism sectors in north Bengal and Sikkim.

Indian Airlines is set to operate the first flight on October 28. An official at the airline’s office here said the flight will be operated once a week for the time being. In all likelihood, the IA flight from Calcutta to Bagdogra on Mondays will be extended to Kathmandu. On its return, it will hop at Bagdogra before proceeding to Calcutta.

Trade and tourism bodies, which have been lobbying for international status for Bagdogra airport for a long time, welcomed the Union civil aviation ministry’s move, and in the same breath demanded that the service be extended to other Saarc countries, particularly Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry North Bengal (Focin) general secretary Biswajit Das told The Telegraph: “We are happy that the long-standing demand for introduction of international flights from Bagdogra, the only civilian airport in north Bengal, is finally bearing fruit.” Focin, in association with the travel and hotel industry, has been pushing for the upgrade of Bagdogra airport, which has all the facilities and infrastructure. The Centre’s decision will be a major boost not only for the region’s tourism industry, but will also enhance trade between India and Nepal, he added.

“The direct flight will benefit tourists and business travellers. We now want the civil aviation ministry to introduce a flight to Paro in Bhutan and Dhaka in Bangladesh. This apart, we have also demanded that the Bangkok-Guwahati flight be extended to Bagdogra. North Bengal being a focal point for cross-border trade with Bangladesh, introduction of a flight between Bagdogra and Dhaka is the need of the hour,” Das said

Neighbouring Sikkim, too, had been crying hoarse for the upgradation of Bagdogra airport and is delighted with the Centre’s decision.

“The introduction of a weekly flight between Nepal and Bagdogra will give a major fillip to the tourism industry in the state. Tourism is Sikkim’s major revenue earner. A direct flight between Bagdogra and Kathmandu will help us attract high-spending international tourists on the eastern Himalayan circuit to Sikkim. We are hopeful that the introduction of a weekly international flight is the first step towards Bagdogra being accorded the status of an international airport,” said a senior Sikkim tourism department official from Gangtok.

Focin has also demanded a Bangladesh visa office in Siliguri. “With the volume of cross-border trade on the rise between north Bengal and Bangladesh and only two exit and entry points, a direct flight between Bagdogra and Dhaka could do wonders for trade and commerce. The state-owned Sonali Bank of Bangladesh, which opened a branch in Siliguri a couple of years ago, is ready to provide space for a visa office,” Das said.

Indian Airlines sources said arrangements were underway to operationalise the international customs, immigration check and health and intelligence enclosures at the terminal.

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