Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha and local MP Capt Amarinder Singh said Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport here has its own individual importance and no attempts should be made to 'downgrade facilities and services' of this airport.
Presiding over the first meeting of the newly constituted Airport Advisory Committee here on Thursday, he welcomed the building and the development of more airports in the region but made it clear that this must not be done at the cost of existing ones. In his capacity as the local MP, he is the chairman of the committee. He said with special reference to the upcoming airport at Chandigarh/Mohali, which is scheduled to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
Later talking to the media, he said no doubt the facilities at the Amritsar airport had improved during the past 10 years, but what matters the most is the number of flights that operate from here. Sadly, over the last decade or so the number of flights, particularly international flights had registered a decline, he added.
Pointing out that he was in favour of building and developing airports at other places like Mohali and Chandigarh, he said this must not be at the cost of the existing airports like the one at Amritsar. The holy city has its own importance as it is a religious centre and it attracts the maximum tourists from all over the globe, he added.
"I was told at the meeting that around 1 lakh tourists come to Amritsar daily. For this we must have more flights, particularly international ones," he added. He said when he was the chief minister, he had facilitated the operation of international flights from Amritsar airport. However, he regretted that later these flights were taken off.
"We had direct flights to Singapore, London and Toronto from here but for various reasons these were discontinued and no effort was made to restore these. What we want here are direct flights not via Delhi, as is the case now, with passengers changing aircrafts at Delhi," he added while assuring to take up this issue with the Civil Aviation Ministry.
He pointed out that the airport here had the best facilities and even had the facility for landing of 'big' aircrafts. This facility will not be available at the Chandigarh airport, which incidentally is under the Indian Air Force unlike the local airport, which is run by the Airport Authority of India (AAI).
Currently 15 flights, including five international (via Delhi), operate on a daily basis from Amritsar. Another issue that he will take up with the ministry and that came up at the meeting was related to cargo flights. He was told by the committee members that even freight/cargo flights were going via Delhi as a result many of the exporters here had stopped sending their cargo abroad.
"For perishable items we need direct cargo flights out of Amritsar not via Delhi. Vegetables, fruits and flowers used to be exported from here sometime back as direct flights were available," he added with airport director VV Rao pointing out that the airport had excellent cargo facilities.
The Amritsar MP indicated that he will be meeting the civil aviation officials in Delhi to get more flights to Amritsar. Other matters will also be taken up. A delegation of taxi operators also met him and urged him that the staying time for the taxis be increased from 5 minutes to 10 minutes.