Oct. 1: The first night flight passengers entered Bagdogra airport to the beat of drums at 7.30 this evening.
SG 944, a SpiceJet flight from Calcutta carrying 48 passengers, among them the north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb, was 20 minutes late, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of tour operators and locals at the airport.
“It is a red letter day for Bagdogra and north Bengal. For several years, we wanted night landing and finally it has happened,” Deb said.
Residents across north Bengal as well as neighbouring Sikkim have been waiting for years for night-landing flights to start.
On July 1, the Indian Air Force gave its assent to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to run flights till 10pm.
In Bagdogra, the air traffic control and the runway are maintained by the IAF.
Several officials of the AAI, the state tourism department and representatives of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association, assembled at the terminal building this evening to welcome the passengers of the first evening flight.
SpiceJet also started its morning flights from Bagdogra today. The SpiceJet flight that left Calcutta at 8.40am reached Bagdogra at 9.40am. The return flight left at 10.10am.
“The morning and evening flights between Calcutta and Bagdogra have been started by SpiceJet from today. We now look forward to see that the morning and evening flights between Delhi and Bagdogra and morning flight to Guwahati are introduced from October 7, as mentioned by the company. This would be followed by another flight between Bagdogra and Kathmandu,” Deb said.
“We are confident that the airline will continue its service as there will be enough passengers. More airline companies are likely to follow suit,” the minister said.
Another important factor that could woo airlines to Bagdogra is the state’s decision to waive the sales tax on aviation fuel. The government in a meeting last month decided to waive the sales tax on aviation turbine fuel, which is 30 per cent in Calcutta and other airports.
“Bagdogra is the cheapest airport in the country in terms of refuelling, which would naturally bring more airline companies,” a senior official of AAI said.
“It is great news for the business community as well as for people in general. Earlier, we could catch flights only till afternoon and there was no option to reach Calcutta or Delhi in the evening,” said Dilip Dugar, a north Bengal zonal council member of the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Raj Basu, a veteran in the tourism industry, brought up two other issues.
“We have come with two more demands…. First of all, we want the state government and AAI authorities to bring Siliguri in the domestic and international air map by changing the code of Bagdogra. Instead of IXB, which is the code now, tickets should be issued in the name of Siliguri or SLG,” Basu said.
“Further, it was the chief minister’s wish to name the airport after Tagore. We have submitted letters to the AAI officials and to the north Bengal development minister today, requesting to change the code and also name the airport as Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore International Airport.”
Somnath Banerjee, who travelled on the flight, said: “With this facility, one can even return from Calcutta on the same day. More flights should ply during early morning and evening hours.”
Jonathan Lozan, a French national from Lyon, who took the flight said: “I am on my way to Darjeeling and learned in Calcutta airport about this new flight. This flight saved my time and virtually a whole day,” he said.
With him were five of his friends, all students of business administration in Lyon.