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Issues in Civil Aviation
Issues on Civil Aviation in North Eastern Region and Sikkim – Road Ahead
1. That connectivity and infrastructure in NER is of prime importance does not bear repetition. The off stated reasons are as follows:
- Terrain makes air connectivity not just an option for travel but an absolute necessity
- Road and railways are highly capital intensive. Development of air infrastructure is much less so and hence highly appropriate even for shortfalls.
- Thrust areas of development and those in which the NER has competitive advantage are agriculture, tourism and services.
- For movement of perishable agro commodities, quick and reliable movement of cargo is necessary to find markets within and outside the region.
- For developing tourist circuits to harness the tourism potential
- Developing some cities such as Shillong as educational hubs for which air transport could give a boost.
- Evacuation of patients and during natural disasters
- Strategic reasons
- Opening up the region international especially to the neighbouring countries and ASEAN.
2. Issues on the policies for the promotion of air connectivity
- Higher public investments for development and maintenance of airports – this should include both infrastructure development as well as recurring expenditure for running of the airports which sometimes act as impediment for improved services.
- As airports have ripple effect on development, public investment to improve infrastructure to attract traffic and cargo movement should precede 'traffic needs'.
- Dispersal of public investment to develop new airports
- Budgetary support to Airports Authority of India by Ministry of Civil Aviation for operation and maintenance of the smaller airports.
- Budgetary support/viability gap funding for air operations to operators for encouraging intra-region connectivity.
- Strict monitoring of route dispersal guidelines.
- Developing skills of local youth in the aviation sector.
- Proactive role by State Government in land acquisition and other support activities.
3. Sixth Sectoral Summit of North Eastern Council on 'Air Connectivity in Aizawl in 2007 declared inter-alia the objective of "operationalising upto 50 airports/airstrips in the North Eastern Region by the end of the Eleventh Five Year Plan, and providing upto 600 flights per week within the region, by using the appropriate type of aircraft, making the required improvements in existing airports/airstrips in a time-bound manner"
- Development of infrastructure in existing airports – night landing facilities, runway, navigation facilities, terminals, city side development, instrument landing system.
- Development of facilities for storage and movement of perishable cargo (for horticulture and floriculture)
- Facilities for developing Guwahati, Agartala and Dibrugarh as hubs – hangars, etc.
Development of non-operational/greenfield airports in the following regions:
- Opening up Arunachal
- Western part of Assam – Kokrajhar
- North of Tripura – Kailashahar/Kamalpur either
- North of Nagaland – No airport presently
- South of Mizoram – should we think of an airport to capture business traffic that may come with the development of Kaladan Multi-modal Project
- Shillong and Tura for Meghalaya (they are operational but Tura has no flights and flights from Shillong are irregular.
5. Airport-wise status
6. Other issues about operational airports
- There are ownership issues about the airports such as of Lengpuii (Mizoram Govt.) and Tura (Meghalaya Govt.). These are owned by the State Governments. Discussions on their handing over are ongoing. Airports Authority should be budgetarily supported for running the new airports which come under its fold.
- Jorhat, Bagdogra and Tezpur are under the Air Force.
- In the absence of ILS or due to very difficult terrain, landings are irregular which erodes consumer confidence leading to further drop in demand and causing low utilization of airport facilities.
7. Operational issues
- The passenger traffic and number of flights in NER has vastly increased over the years as the following figures show:
|Year||Aircraft Movements||Passengers||Freight (In Tonnes)|
|No.||% Change||No. (in lakh)||% Change||No.||% Change|
|2004-05||33019||4.5 %||14.47||10.8 %||10304||13.4%|
|2005-06||34036||3.1 %||16.20||12.0 %||11006||6.8%|
|2006-07||42069||23.6 %||22.72||40.2 %||9836||-10.6%|
|2007-08||55471||31.9 %||28.61||25.9 %||11260||14.5%|
|2008-09||58843||6.1 %||29.77||4.1 %||13346||18.5%|
- Frequent cancellation is a major issue both on account of poor bookings and weather conditions.
- In some sectors, there is public perception of high fares
- Creation of proper functioning hub at Guwahati presently and in future at Agartala and Dibrugarh to enable early morning flights to take off from the region (by taking advantage of early day break in NER) and same day return in the evening. As per MOU with NEC, AAI is stationing only one ATR in Guwahati which is not adequate for linking all the other capital towns.
8. Issues about hub at Guwahati and other places
- Non-availability of hangars
- Pilots and crew do not want to stay overnight at Guwahati due to absence of hotels of adequate standard.
- Maintenance staff not posted in the region – not enough trained local persons in the field of aviation.
9. Utility of smaller aircrafts
- Need for terrain friendly, appropriate sized, multiple use (cargo – passenger interchangeable) aircrafts for short haul intra NE connectivity - it is to be pondered on why such aircrafts do not fit in the airlines' scheme of things.
- Are they not commercially viable?
- Availability of spare parts
- Availability of pilots for these aircrafts, they do not provide desired career progress path to the pilots.
10. Opening hours of airports
An important impediment in improving and intensifying air operations is the opening hours of existing airports. If airports are often for longer and suitable hours, flights get a bigger window. The issues here are of availability of staff and manpower particularly of ATC by AAI. Longer opening hours can encourage non-schedule airlines to also operate. Infrastructure augmentation and keeping the airports open for longer period can impact on more flights. The trade off in terms of augmenting infrastructure, enhancing airport opening timings and making Guwahati-Agartala hubs and increase in number of passengers need to be assessed.
11. Operations of non-scheduled operators
Non-scheduled operators can bring in flexibility and optimal size in movement of both cargo and passengers in the region. Government has granted initial NOC to:
- M/s Sky King Aviation to operate scheduled air services exclusively within the North-East region.
- M/s Surya Air to operate non-scheduled operations, with short-haul feeder air services in the North-East region.
- Under the Regional Scheduled Airline concept, Govt has granted initial NOC to ZAV Air to operate scheduled regional air transport services in the Eastern and North-Eastern region.
None of them have started operation. North East Shuttles Pvt. Ltd operated in Lengpuii, Silchar, Imphal and Agartala. It has now stopped operations. There is need to encourage non-scheduled operators which can bring in small planes to suit small stations.
- Landing and parking fees has been waved for all scheduled operations in NER. The company has requested the same to be extended to the non-scheduled operators as well.
- Increasing operational hours at airports in Aizawl and Shillong so that more routes can be operated. Mizoram Government has also written to Airport Authority of India so that uninterrupted air services are possible.
- Fuel subsidy extended to scheduled carriers in NER should be extended to non-scheduled carriers as well.
- Withholding tax on aircraft lease rental payments to be exempted.
12. Operations of the Route Dispersal Guidelines of DGCA
Even though the number of flights operating in the region and passengers have increased exponentially, dispersal of the routes to intra-NER points has not occurred. Hence, Ministry of DONER is of the view that the interpretation of the 10% Route Dispersal Guidelines more appropriate to the NER to encourage the spread of flights.
13. International connectivity
International connectivity has to be encouraged to promote NER's trade with neighbouring and ASEAN countries. Presently, there are no international flights from Guwahati which is the only designated international airport. There are no air links with Myanmar or Bangladesh from the region. In fact to go to Myanmar, one has to go to Bangkok.
14. Overall the Ministry of DONER is of the view that the promotion of air connectivity and its dispersal in the region can have a multiplier effect on economic development. For this, serious budgetary support for recurring and infrastructure expenditure by Ministry of Civil Aviation to Airports Authority of India is essential.