Issues that matter: International flights | Airport awaits MP push for foreign flights to take off - Hindustan Times
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Issues that matter: International flights | Airport awaits MP push for foreign flights to take off

May 28, 2024 08:38 AM IST

After the flight to Sharjah was discontinued in October 2023, the airport’s only international link was the IndiGo flight to Dubai that operates seven days a week

Mohali: Despite the demand for connectivity to destinations abroad and the growing Punjabi diaspora, the Shaheed Bhagat Singh International Airport in Mohali has only two flights by a domestic carrier to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that justify its ‘international’ tag. Travellers are forced to head to New Delhi or Amritsar airports by road or rail from Chandigarh, the joint state capital with Haryana and Union Territory, before flying to destinations in Europe, America and Australia. Though the issue was on the agenda of the Anandpur Sahib and Chandigarh members of Parliament in the 2019 elections, international flights failed to take off from the airport, leaving tricity residents and industrialists disappointed.

Travellers are forced to head to New Delhi or Amritsar airports by road or rail from Chandigarh, the joint state capital with Haryana and Union Territory, before flying to destinations in Europe, America and Australia. (HT File)
Travellers are forced to head to New Delhi or Amritsar airports by road or rail from Chandigarh, the joint state capital with Haryana and Union Territory, before flying to destinations in Europe, America and Australia. (HT File)

After the flight to Sharjah was discontinued in October 2023, the airport’s only international link was the IndiGo flight to Dubai that operates seven days a week. Another direct flight to Abu Dhabi was launched this month. The much-anticipated direct flight to London, initially slated for takeoff in October 2022, remains grounded, while Air India’s commitment to fly to Singapore and Bangkok in 2017 is on paper.

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“Until we have bilateral agreements, we can’t start any other international flight from here. We are in regular touch with Indian operators, including Air Vistara and IndiGo. We are pursuing IndiGo to start a flight to Singapore this winter besides Istanbul. If we get these flights, international connectivity will be better and it will boost the economy, too,” says RK Das, the chief financial officer who holds the additional charge of the airport’s chief executive officer (CEO).

A direct flight to Singapore and Istanbul would mean tricity residents won’t have to travel for eight to 10 hours to Delhi to reach Europe or other prominent destinations in the US, Canada and Australia.

According to airport sources, international flights from Chandigarh will truly take off only when foreign carriers get a ‘point of call’, which implies a bilateral air services agreement between countries. For now, the government is not in favour of increasing points of call for foreign carriers in India. In its report in July last year, a parliamentary standing committee said that Indian carriers fewer points of call abroad as compared to international carriers at Indian airports. The committee asked the civil aviations ministry to get more points of call for Indian carriers abroad.

Defence airport,cartelisation: MP

Outgoing Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari, who is the Chandigarh Congress candidate, said Chandigarh is on the no-go list for international carriers given the fact that it is a military airport. “I’ve worked with successive civil aviation ministries to see that foreign flights take off but there is resistance from the defence side. Another reason is cartelisation. The privatisation of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru besides other airports have become an impediment for regional connectivity. They don’t want carriers to fly internationally from subsidiary destinations,” Tewari said.

Industrialists of the tricity are unimpressed, citing the delay in international connectivity. The Mohali Industrial Association had filed a petition in 2015 following which the first international flight took off from Chandigarh followed by direct connectivity to Dubai and Sharjah in 2016. Baljit Singh, who heads the association, said: “I took a group of 50 industrialists to Azerbaijan last week. We reached Delhi airport by bus a day before as our flight was at 6am. If we had a flight from Chandigarh, it would have saved us time and energy.”

Increase in footfall, domestic traffic

The passenger load on the local airport has increased manifold since 2019. From 24.47 lakh passengers in the 2019-20 fiscal, the number rose to 36.87 lakh in 2023-24. Due to poor international connectivity, the number of passengers headed abroad showed a slight rise from 1.21 lakh in 2019-20 to 1.48 lakh in 2023-24. However, with improved domestic connectivity, the number of passengers travelling within the country saw an increase of over 12 lakh passengers from 23.25 lakh in 2019-20 to 35.39 lakh in 2023-24.

The airport is a joint venture of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Punjab and Haryana governments. With a 485-crore investment, Punjab and Haryana each have a 24.5% stake, while the AAI maintains a majority share of 51%. Punjab had given 307 acres in Mohali for the airport, while the runway is located in Chandigarh. The AAI controls the functioning of the civil terminal in partnership with Punjab and Haryana, but the runway operation and air traffic control is under the Chandigarh air force station that also determines the operation hours of commercial passenger flights.

WHAT THEY SAY

We got the international airport in Mohali but the past MPs did not do much for ensuring international flights. If elected, I promise to start direct flights to the US and Europe soon.

Subash Sharma, BJP’s Anandpur Sahib candidate

We will launch more international flights from here and also start an independent cargo terminal at the airport for exports to give a boost to trade and investment.

Prem Singh Chandumajra, Shiromani Akali Dal nominee

Under the advanced air network, efforts will be made to start direct flights from Chandigarh to Toronto and Singapore with the support of NRIs and embassies.

Vijay Inder Singla, Congress candidate

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