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PMO push to tender for Northeast air link

New Delhi, Feb. 24: The Prime Minister’s Office has asked the government to come out with a fresh tender to float an airline that will connect a host of airports in the Northeast.

With the state-run Alliance Air’s contract to run air services within the region having ended in December last year, the PMO has asked the government to float a global tender for an airline that will run a fleet exclusively for the region.

Top officials said the plan for an airline for the Northeast was floated by Manipur Governor S.S. Sidhu and was being pushed by Meghalaya chief secretary Ranjan Chatterjee.

Chatterjee is also currently in the fray for the position of chairman, Air India.

Both Sidhu and Chatterjee have considerable experience in the civil aviation sector and are of the opinion that an airline that would operate out of a hub at Guwahati and connect the difficult Northeast terrain using small passenger aircraft, could be viable with a small subsidy.

The selected airline will be subsidised by funds from the North Eastern Council (NEC) and will be expected to fly as many as 400 flights every month connecting the region internally by the end of 2009.

Besides the 11 airports operational in the region, at least another 11 new airports will be ready for use by the end of this year while 25 more will come up during the 11th Five-Year Plan.

Alliance Air which too is keen to bid for the tender had continued to operate out of Calcutta and only deployed 30 per cent of its fleet time in the Northeast even after getting Rs 175 crore as subsidy from the NEC.

A tender floated last year did not attract the kind of response the government had hoped for. Officials said the new tender was expected to bring in better offers. The carriers must have a minimum start-up capital of Rs 30 crore and operate at least four aircraft with a take-off mass of over 40 tonnes.

The government is also considering a proposal to relax norms to allow airlines flying in the Northeast connect international destinations from the Guwahati airport.

Top officials said in the absence of night landing or instrument-guided landing facilities in most of the Northeast airports, it was difficult for commercial flights to land after 4pm.

Eight airports will get night landing facilities to solve the problem.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has also prepared a detailed project report to set up a greenfield airport in Sikkim at an estimated cost of Rs 340 crore.

The Sikkim government will pay about Rs 100 crore and provide the land at Pakyong.

At present Sikkim has to bank on Bagdogra airport, near Siliguri.

The AAI has also selected sites at Banderva near Itanagar and Chiethu near Kohima for the greenfield airports in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Construction of all these airports is expected to be taken up during the 11th Five-Year Plan.

Officials said Guwahati airport would be developed to international standards in the next five years.

“Airlines may be permitted to provide connections out of Guwahati to countries in Southeast Asia. Besides improving connectivity, this could also contribute to the viability of airline operations in the Northeast,” they said.

The government also plans to set up cold storage chains that would sell flower, fruits and vegetable at select Northeast airports.

Cold store chains will be set up at the airports at Guwahati, Lengpui in Aizwal and Umroi in Shillong besides the three proposed greenfield airports.

The government also plans to study how to link the three main tourist destinations —Tawang, Kaziranga and Majuli island — by air.

The airports at Rupsi, Kamalpur, Passighat and Tezu would restart operations, officials said.

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