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Customs snag grounds Drukair flight

Siliguri, April 19: The delay in getting customs and immigration clearance has put on hold the first landing and take-off of an international flight from the Bagdogra airport on April 18.

Drukair, the Royal Bhutan Airlines, had chosen the airport as a stopover for its flights from Paro to Bangkok and back starting from March 29.

An agreement with the civil aviation ministry of India had in 2008 allowed the airline to operate its flights from Bagdogra and a four-member team from Drukair inspected the aerodrome in February this year. Later, the airline agreed to operate from March.

The date was later postponed to April 18. “We decided to start the flight from April 18 as it was an auspicious day,” Tshering Penjore, the general-manager of the airline, said in an e-mail to The Telegraph.

However, the flight could not operate yesterday as the airport was yet to get the customs and immigration clearances. “We have furnished the customs department with all necessary documents, but we are yet to receive a green light. The next date has not been fixed as we do not know how long it will take to get the clearance,” K.K. Bhowmik, the airport director, said today.

Drukair, when it starts operations, will be the first foreign airline to conduct its flights from the airport which is yet get international status.

Bagdogra, the only functional airport in the state apart from the one at Dum Dum in Calcutta, is an Indian Air Force base with limited access for civilians.

The Bhutan airline was to operate from Bagdogra four days a week. While flights from Bhutan will land and take off in Bagdogra — en route to Bangkok — on Tuesday and Saturday, those from the Thai capital will arrive on Sunday and Wednesday. “Both the Drukair and Bagdogra airport are ready and the flights will operate as soon as customs and immigration services are available at the airport,” said Bhowmik.

R. Mangababu, the additional commissioner of customs, north Bengal and Sikkim division, said: “We have forwarded the documents to our higher authorities and some time is needed to complete the formalities. However, it cannot be said exactly when the airport will get the clearance,” he said.

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