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Bagdogra’s foreign dreams run aground

Siliguri, June 10: The civil aviation ministry has gone back on its word to operate international flights through Bagdogra and uncertainty looms over the airport’s status now.

Though former civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain promised to start international flights to and from Bagdogra, the airport catering to north Bengal and Sikkim, the flights are nowhere in sight.

In a recent letter to the East Himalayan Travel and Tour Operators’ Association, K. Ramakrishnan, an under-secretary in the civil aviation ministry, made it clear that “there is no proposal to declare Bagdogra as an international airport”.

Hussain, who lost the ministry to Rajiv Pratap Rudy in the recent Cabinet shake-up, had said last year that Air-India and Indian Airlines, the national carriers, could operate international flights from Bagdogra “even without the airport being declared international”.

Hussain said at the time that Air-India was “examining suitability” for its flights through Bagdogra. He said the Centre was keen to promote tourism in the Northeast, especially to draw the high-spending tourists from the West.

The promised Indian Airlines flight was to take off on October 27, 2002, on the Calcutta-Bagdogra-Kathmandu route, with a maximum of 119 passengers. The date came and went, but no international flights took off from Bagdogra.

“Regarding the operation of international flights, airlines decide on such operations based on their commercial judgement and availability of aircraft capacity. Granting international status to an airport depends upon traffic potential and demand,” Ramakrishnan said in his letter dated May 14.

“It is disgusting,” Supratim Basu, the tour operators’ association executive president, said even while remembering how thrilled they were when Hussain made the announcement last year.

“It was good news for local tourism, which would have benefited in a big way if international planes flew from Bagdogra. But our hopes have been dashed,” Basu said. He added that the association would write to the civil aviation and tourism ministries. “We will try to convince them again that declaring Bagdogra an international airport is the need of the hour.”

The Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in North Bengal (Focin) has decided to “knock the doors of the authorities” once again.

“Our fight for an international status for Bagdogra has been on for over a decade,” Focin general secretary Biswajit Das said. “Last year, we had got a letter from the civil aviation ministry saying that international flights would soon start from here.”

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