Cooch Behar on air map

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By MAIN UDDIN CHISTI
  • Published 20.07.11
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Cooch Behar, July 19: A Northeast Shuttle flight left for Calcutta from here this afternoon after Mamata Banerjee “flagged off” the service — that resumed after 18 years —via a video conference.

The fare for the Cooch Behar-Calcutta route is Rs 5,000 for each person. The government will have eight reserved seats on each of the six flights that will operate to and from Calcutta every week to give a boost to the airline.

For Mathabhanga Trinamul Congress MLA Binoy Krishna Barman, who was aboard the Dornier, it was the first time that he ever flew in an aircraft.

An hour before the Dornier aircraft landed here at 12.06pm, Barman had arrived at the airport along with Natabari MLA and NBSTC chairperson, Rabindranath Ghosh.

There was a thin drizzle at that time and when the drone of the aircraft’s engines could be heard, Barman’s eyes lit up.

“You can say that a long-cherished dream will be fulfilled today. The day Mamata Banerjee announced on July 19 that air services would resume from Cooch Behar, I had immediately told Rabindranath Ghosh that I would love to be on that flight. Today will forever remain in my memory and it is also an historical occasion and I am proud to be part of it,” a beaming Barman said.

The 51-year-old legislator comes from a farming background and despite being a BSc with a BEd, Barman said he still preferred to till the fields.

Mamata, who could see the Cooch Behar airport on a screen set up at Kanchenjungha Stadium in Siliguri, waved a flag which was then conveyed to the Airports Authority of India here. The Cooch Behar airport, too, had installed a screen for the video conference but a last-minute snag spoilt the show. The screen at the passenger lounge, where the journalists and the district officials had gathered, became blank.

The aircraft took off from Cooch Behar at 12.50pm and arrived at Dum Dum at 2pm. “I am overwhelmed. Let me first thank our leader Mamata Banerjee for allowing me to fly through clouds and watch the landscape passing below, the rivers and the fields and the ant-like vehicles on the highways. It was very thrilling. Can you believe that we reached Calcutta in one hour and ten minutes?” Barman said from Calcutta.

Another person who was all excited was a 76-year-old businessman from here, Srichand Jain. “I am very happy that I could see the reintroduction of flights. The business community will be immensely happy,” he said.

The last commercial flight to and from Cooch Behar had landed and taken off in 1993 when the now defunct Vayudoot, a subsidiary of Indian Airlines, used to operate services between here and Calcutta. Jain recalled he had availed of the air services then too.

Today, the Northeast Shuttles flight took seven passengers from here, including the two MLAs and Jain. Among the others were the managing director of the NBSTC, D.B. Lepcha, additional district magistrate Sudip Mitra, deputy magistrate Sajjad Sissique, and businessman Ajay Gupta.

District magistrate Smaraki Mahapatra, who was present at the airport, said the new service was a joint venture between the state government and the Northeast Shuttle. “The regular flights will begin from the first week of August as some official formalities, including the setting up of an office of the service provider here, have to be completed. The service will now be on the Cooch Behar-Calcutta route,” she said.

Earlier, the service was planned for the Cooch Behar-Calcutta-Guwahati route.

“We are happy with the facilities here,” said Captain Phizo Nath, who flew the 18-seater Dornier with Captain Gurban Singh.

Northeast Shuttle will use a Dornier 228 aircraft for its Calcutta-Cooch Behar operations. Dornier 228 is a twin-turboprop engine aircraft with a cruising speed of 200 nautical miles or 370 kilometres per hour.