Source : Telegraph India
|A Rafale aircraft being inducted into the No. 101 Sqn of Indian Air Force, at AFS Hasimara in Alipurduar district on July 28, 2021. (Photo Credit: PTI)|
The central government has decided to upgrade the Hasimara Air Force Station in Alipurduar district to a civil enclave from where passenger flights can be operated, a nod to the longs-standing demand for a second airport for north Bengal.
The Centre has sought 37.74 acres of land from the Bengal government to extend the existing runway of the station managed by the Indian Air Force, and build a terminal building, administrative block, apron and a vehicle parking lot for the planned civilian airport. The air force station is located near the India-Bhutan border.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Union minister for civil aviation, on Thursday wrote to John Barla, the BJP MP of Alipurduar and Union minister of state for minority affairs, about the plan.
“The Union civil aviation minister has mentioned in the letter that the Hasimara air station has been included in the regional connectivity scheme, or Udan. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has sought some land from the Bengal government for the development of infrastructure at the proposed airport. It is a major development for north Bengal and once the airport gets operational, it will benefit the residents of Alipurduar, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri districts, parts of lower Assam and neighbouring Bhutan,” Barla said.
Sources in the AAI the outfit’s jurisdiction would be limited to the passenger terminal while all other activities at the civil enclave would be handled by the IAF.
They said there was a plan to develop a second airport in north Bengal after Bagdogra, which has fast emerged as one of the busiest airports of the country with a steady rise in the number of passengers and flights.
“As per the proposal, the Hasimara airport will be a civil enclave like Bagdogra where the air traffic control and the runway are managed by the IAF. There is an existing runway and ATC at the air base in Hasimara and this will make it easier to build an airport for commercial flights. There will be no need to build an entirely new airport,” a source said.
In his letter, Scindia has mentioned that Hasimara has an airstrip that is 2,740 metres long and 45 metres wide, which is suitable for Code-C-type aircraft such as the 76-seater bombardier.
“The AAI has sought 37.74 acres of land from the state for infrastructure development so that aircraft like the A320 (larger planes) can operate from the airport. Once the land is provided, it will take around six to eight months to ready other infrastructure,” an AAI official said.
An Alipurduar district official said the AAI request for land had been received and forwarded to the state government.
The three airports nearest to Hasimara are Bagdogra, Cooch Behar and Rupsi, which is in Dhubri district of Assam. These are located 137km, 57km and 117km, respectively, from Hasimara. The Cooch Behar airport, however, is not operational.
“We welcome the initiative by the Centre. It will largely help the residents of Alipurduar and Cooch Behar who have to travel to Bagdogar or Rupsi to catch flights. Also, it will boost tourism in the region as many would prefer to take flights to Hasimara to visit Bhutan,” said Tamal Goswami, who runs a travel agency in Alipurduar.
The Hasimara air force station is strategically location near the India-China border. It was established in 1962 during the India-China war. Rafale fighter jets inducted into the 101 squadron of the IAF that is posted at the air force base are stationed there.