On, off, about to be on but off again — that’s the status of the flight to Sikkim’s Pakyong.
The lone flight to the Himalayan state from Calcutta, suspended in June, was set to be revived on October 1 but the airline has shelved the plan citing lack of infrastructure at the Pakyong airport, located at 4,600 feet.
Officials at SpiceJet said the facilities required for flights to operate in low visibility were yet to be installed at the airport.
“We had planned to restore the flight on October 1. But the plan was deferred at the last moment because the infrastructure is not yet ready. We now plan to resume the flight towards the end of October,” a SpiceJet official said.
“Many of those who have booked tickets have taken refunds. We will try to accommodate the passengers who have not taken refunds on flights to Bagdogra.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in September 2018 inaugurated the airport at Pakyong, built under the Centre’s regional connectivity scheme Udan (Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik).
In the absence of instrument landing system, the minimum visibility required for a flight to land at Pakyong is 5km.
“The weather would be foggy on most days and flights could not land. On an average 50 per cent of the flights would be cancelled because of weather,” a SpiceJet official said.
Since the weather is likely to improve in October, which also coincides with the holiday season, the airline had planned to resume the flight on the 1st of that month. But the relaunch had to be deferred because of lack of infrastructure.
Civil aviation ministry officials said they were unable to install landing aids because of agitation by landowners there.
Sikkim government officials said the landowners had started an agitation and were not allowing upgrade work.
“The residents are alleging that about 60 acres of land adjacent to the airport had been damaged because of landslides, caused while a hilltop was being sliced for increasing visibility. More than 60 houses were affected. The residents were paid compensation but they are demanding more,” an official in the Sikkim government said.
“We will meet the residents and the airport authorities to try and find a solution by the end of this month.”
Pakyong’s condition is similar to that of several other airports in eastern India that were set up under the Udan scheme and where the necessary infrastructure has not been installed in the two years they have been operational.
The airports include the ones in Rourkela (Odisha), Burnpur (West Burdwan), Bokaro (Jharkhand), Kalaikunda (West Midnapore), Hasimara (Alipurduar), Hazaribag (Jharkhand) and Darbhanga (Bihar).
The airports in Cooch Behar and Jamshedpur are ready but no airline is keen on flying from them.
Aviation sources said the routes were opened in a hurry.