New airport announced, fate of existing Sahnewal airport hangs in balance
With the ministry of civil aviation having announced a greenfield airport at Machhiwara in Ludhiana on March 21, fate of the already existing Sahnewal Airport now hangs in balance. The airport, lying defunct since 2014, has literally turned into a white elephant and has been awaiting expansion for many years.punjab Updated: Mar 24, 2017 12:17 IST
With the ministry of civil aviation having announced a greenfield airport at Machhiwara in Ludhiana on March 21, fate of the already existing Sahnewal Airport now hangs in balance. The airport, lying defunct since 2014, has literally turned into a white elephant and has been awaiting expansion for many years.
Ludhiana is only city from North India to feature in the central government scheme to establish 18 greenfield airports across the country. Questions regarding the feasibility of the newly-proposed airport are being raised, as the existing airport has failed to get a good response from travellers.
If the new airport is built at Macchiwara, 40 kilometres from Ludhiana, there are possibilities that the Sahnewal airport, which is at a distance of 15 kilometres from city, will be shifted to the new facility.
“What was the logic of introducing another airport at Machhiwara when the government is not able to sustain the one in Sahnewal?”, an official from Sahnewal airport said.
“The airport was initially built to accommodate lighter aircrafts but later, when the proposal for its expansion was sent, the defence ministry conducted a survey and cancelled the proposal on technical grounds,” Sahnewal airport director Amardeep Mehra said.
A railways track is situated in the vicinity of the airport and it also has a number of high-tension wires nearby.
The Sahnewal airport was envisaged to be an international airport in Ludhiana but since then it has been reduced to a mere airstrip for chartered flights, costing the exchequer. Spread over 127.5 acres, the airport has a 4,800-foot-long runway, which is too short for highcapacity aircraft, much to the discouragement of private airlines. The opening of an international terminal in SAS Nagar, two hours by road from Ludhiana, has also dampened hopes.
A strip at Sahewal airport exists since the 1980s for a flying club. Some flights were operational in the ’90s, but it was only six years ago that frequent flights began. From May 13, 2010, the year the runway was re-carpeted at a cost of Rs10 crore, till May 16, 2014, Air India operated flights between Delhi and Ludhiana. But the timings were erratic and frequency confined to thrice a week. The absence of nightlanding facility, too, was a deterrent.
In the 2013 budget speech, the state’s SAD-BJP government had announced plans to expand the Sahnewal airport. Soon after Air India withdrew its flights, the state government issued a notification for acquiring 1,827 acres. Of this, 322 were designated for extending the runway and the rest for an integrated aero city complex, comprising cargo and warehouse facilities.
However, the Greater Ludhiana Area Development Authority (GLADA), entrusted with acquiring the land, was unable to do so, owing to paucity of funds. To make the Sahnewal airport functional was also part of manifesto of many contesting candidates in the recently held Punjab assembly elections.