Bagdogra airport terminal. File picture
Siliguri, July 1: The Indian Air Force today informed the airport director of Bagdogra that it would allow the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to use the runway of the airport for night landing till 10pm, an extension of four hours.
“We have received a communication from the Indian Air Force authorities today, mentioning that they are ready to let us use the runway till 10pm. It is good news for all of us as we have been trying over the years for introduction of night landing facilities at the airport,” said K.K. Bhowmik, the airport director of Bagdogra.
“Tomorrow, we will communicate this development to all commercial airlines as well as to our superiors at AAI offices,” he said.
The Bagdogra airport, which caters to air passengers across north Bengal, neighbouring Sikkim and parts of Bihar, is open till 6pm.
There have been night landings and take-offs, but those have been limited to VIPs or in cases of emergencies.
The runway of Bagdogra airport is maintained by the IAF but its buildings are in the charge of the AAI. Before passenger planes began landing here, the facility was an air force station and a part of it continues to be so.
Several defence jets take off from Bagdogra every day.
“The assent from the IAF is a major development, considering the growing importance of Bagdogra as a hub for tourist movement. We are hopeful that once the communiqué is passed to airlines, they would soon announce night flights. It would largely benefit the tourism and other sectors across north Bengal,” Bhowmik said.
The demand to introduce night landing facilities in Bagdogra is a longstanding one.
“The erstwhile Left government did not do anything to address the demand. However, as our government was formed in the state, the chief minister herself took up the issue with the Centre and discussed regularly with officials of the Union civil aviation ministry as well as with the ministers,” said north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb.
“We put in our best efforts to obtain the assent of the IAF and finally, the permission had reached the AAI,” said Deb.
As of now, 160-165 flights operate every week from Bagdogra. In the last fiscal ending in March 2013, around 8 lakh passengers have travelled via Bagdogra, AAI sources said.
Last year, IAF sources had said that as a part of its modernisation of airfield infrastructure, it would install an instrument landing system (ILS) in Bagdogra.
The project is likely to be completed in the current year.
Airport director Bhowmik said: “There is necessary infrastructure and we are in a position to cater to flights operating after dark. The ILS, once implemented, would surely be an added advantage, particularly during inclement weather.”
Representatives of the tourism industry in north Bengal have welcomed the step. “It is indeed good news for us. We thank both the state and Centre and agencies concerned for making this facility possible in Bagdogra,” said Tapas Roy, the general secretary of Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association.