The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Now, fly to office in a small plane

Calcutta, Jan. 21: Airlines are exploring the possibility of operating more small and medium-sized aircraft, especially in the country’s eastern region, to tap the business potential of small towns which currently go without air connection with Calcutta, Guwahati and other capital cities, officials said today.

The initiative has been taken by the Aeronautical Society of India — now holding its 54th annual general meeting in the city — which has laid emphasis on operating light and medium-sized aircraft in its national aeronautical policy proposal to be presented to the government shortly.

“Can you imagine that out of 491 airfields, we are currently using only 61' We have plans to connect more and more places with small aircraft, which are extremely cost-effective. It is actually like buying a ticket from the airport and reaching your destination without any hassle as during a bus journey. The future of viable and economic travel definitely is very bright in the eastern region,” said Aeronautical Society of India president Kota Harinarayana.

In fact, Cooch Behar, a district headquarters, is likely to figure on the country’s aviation map soon.

He announced that a joint project between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Russia’s Illusion Design is underway to manufacture indigenous 120-seater Jet passenger and military aircraft for even feeder zones, apart from the bigger cities.

“The initial project and basic design has been worked out. We hope to bring out the first prototype by 2006 and gear up for commercial operations soon,” said Harinarayana.

National Aeronautics Limited (NAL) is currently working on a small passenger aircraft — Saras — that will be commercially viable because of low fuel consumption and its strength to withstand frequent flights.

NAL is all set to present Saras, the 14-seater passenger aircraft, in the eastern region on February 4. The first test flight will take place in June and commercial flights will begin by 2005. Talks are on with several airlines keen to buy the Saras and press it into service across the country, specially the Northeast.

A senior Indian Airlines spokesman said the Saras will prove to be an extremely “good proposition for people who intend to go to their workplace and return home the same evening”.

Efforts are underway to create a hub in Guwahati from where the small aircraft would operate.

A new hangar to house the aircraft at night for an early-morning take-off would solve the problem of unavailability of night-landing facilities in the Northeast, added Harinarayana, who is associated with India’s Light Combat Aircraft project.

Indian Airlines is set to add two more 50-seater ATR (Avions Transport Regionale) aircraft to its two-strong fleet in the eastern region next month, connecting small places in the Northeast with Calcutta and Guwahati.

“These aircraft are extremely economical and viable. We are happy with the progress we have made so far,” the airline spokesman added.

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