Cooch Behar Airport
The Cooch Behar Airport in North Bengal, on which the Airports Authority of India (AAI) spent more than Rs 20 crore, has no takers now. Even though the airport is ready for commercial flight operations, no airline is willing to operate flights to and from it, citing lack of passengers. A Tripura-based private airline and the erstwhile Air Deccan were scheduled to start operations from the airport in November 2009 and 2007 respectively. But AAI sources said the airlines lacked interest, perhaps owing to shortage of aircraft and apprehending poor commercial viability. “As of now, we are in talks with different airlines, which have small aircraft like the 18-seater Dornier-228. We are even ready to pay 50% for bookings, which means the government will keep nine of the seats in these aircraft for itself,” said state transport minister Ranjit Kundu. AAI sources said a private carrier based in South India is likely to be the best choice for the state government. If everything works fine, the airline can connect Jamshedpur and Kolkata via Cooch Behar. “With both Kingfisher and MDLR withdrawing operations, there is no air link with Jamshedpur. The civil aviation ministry is keen on an air link for the steel city with Delhi or Kolkata,” an official added. The airport presently has a 1,129-metre runway, which will be increased by more than 900 metres in the second phase. Mechanical engineering students of a reputable university will design a box bridge across the river Moratorsha, which will be part of the extended runway. The Cooch Behar Airport was first put to use in 1945 by Raja Nripendra Narayan, a local king, who operated flights for his personal use. In 1948, the airport was open to commercial carriers. Till 1962, several small private carriers like Himalayan Aviation, Darbhanga Airways, Kalinga Airways, Airways India, Bharat Airways and Jamir Airways operated from the airport. From 1972, the erstwhile Indian Airlines operated from here for three years. The airstrip was operational till 1994 with Vayudoot connecting the city with Kolkata. Since then, the people of the district had been clamouring for resumption of the service. The movement prompted chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to take up the issue with the Union civil aviation ministry and the AAI in 2007 and the later allotted Rs 20 crore for the airport revamp. The airport is located around 2 km from the city of the city that has already been declared as a ‘heritage city’ by the Centre. It is around 180 km from Bagdogra. Bhutan and other important tourist spots of North Bengal are also connected with the airport by road. “If the airport is properly marketed, it can be a good alternative for Bagdogra airport that has several time restrictions owing to an army base,” Singhal added.