Until the international flights begin operations from what is called the Chandigarh international airport — new terminal and major part of the airstrip in SAS Nagar notwithstanding — the real economic potential of this much needed facility in Punjab will remain untapped.
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the international civil air terminal on Friday, there is no confirmation about when the international flights will begin regular operations. Or, the international flights will start operations at all keeping in view the fact that vested business interests are not letting the Chandigarh airport emerge as a rival hub to the Delhi international airport in North.
According to government estimates, around 25% of the total traffic (more than 5,000 passengers) at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, originates from Punjab, Chandigarh and parts of Haryana adjoining Chandigarh. The Parkash Singh Badal government, which wants to showcase this project as its major developmental initiative before the high-stake 2017 assembly elections, is keeping its fingers crossed. Also, the studied silence of the Centre over renaming the international terminal as “Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh International Airport, Mohali” has dampened the spirits of the Punjab government.
However, despite teething troubles, Punjab is cautiously optimistic that the international tag will give a major fillip to an array of commercial activities. For, this airport is being seen as the gateway of economic and industrial development not only for Punjab, but also for neighbouring Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
“It will be a major economic driver for the entire northern region,” says Viswajeet Khanna, Punjab’s principal secretary (civil aviation) pointing out that the Chandigarh airport touched the figure of 10 lakh passengers per year and is growing at the rate of 20% annually.
Endorsing his views, former chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Chandigarh, Manmohan Singh says once the airport becomes operational, it will act as booster for the industry.
CII regional director Pikender Pal Singh says: “The companies here find it difficult to convince clients in the US, Europe and Middle East about infrastructure facilities as they are reluctant to travel to Chandigarh from Delhi via train or bus. The opening of the international airport will address this issue and the industry, especially the information technology and software development will get the much-needed boost.”
An official of the Airports Authority of India says a single international flight brings around Rs 100 crore direct or indirect business. Once the international operations start, it will have a multiplier effect on Punjab’s revenue in the form of value added tax and service tax.
The high rate of compensation given by the government for acquiring land for airport had escalated prices. Till the time international flights become a regular feature, officials say, rise in traffic of chartered flights and cargo planes is expected.
“The business rivalry can delay international operations, but no one can derail making this airport international if Centre intervenes. It is just a matter of time,” a senior Akali Dal leader said.
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