Head to North East this season
In its bid to strengthen the aviation network between the North East and Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (BCLMV countries), the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the International Chamber for Service Industry jointly held a conference
The conference was the need of the hour to substantiate air connectivity between the North East region of India and the BCLMV countries. Having good air connectivity in this region will provide manifold benefits across the varied sectors of the economy including gainful employment to people in the North East. However, passengers alone cannot sustain the aircrafts, with them the cargo also needs to contribute; hence we also invited Patanjali and other herbal product companies at the conference to deliberate on the scope of horticulture, sericulture, agriculture, floriculture, etc. through a strengthened aviation network with our neighbours.
There is a huge passenger traffic coming into India from Bangladesh but most of it goes to Kolkata or other places and the North East does not get its share of tourists due to lack of direct flights. The journey by road from Dhaka to Guwahati is nearly 10 hours and the road from Shillong to Dawki border especially is not very good as it is a 15-20-km stretch of very narrow road. Private airlines from Bangladesh, like Novo Air, have been contemplating but not got a chance to meet the right people in the Indian aviation ministry yet to assure them of the possibility and profitability of a route arising from this region. I am extremely confident that we will launch our maiden flight on the Guwahati to Dhaka route in the next two months.
Our aim was to take forward the government’s ‘Look East’ policy and try to develop more air connectivity not only into and between the north eastern cities but also with the BCLMV countries. I think the North East has huge potential in terms of tourism, be it cultural, spiritual, adventure or heritage and along with that there is a huge potential of hydro-electric power being generated through the various rivers and lakes around. The dialogues and the deliberations with BCLMV countries have been very encouraging. We need to have a three-pronged strategy here, one involving helicopters, one involving STOL aircrafts and one with regular commercial airlines. We need a policy that encompasses all three, only then can we connect all hubs.
The Airport Authority of India has undertaken many projects in the North East, of which several are on the verge of completion. In the next couple of months, we are going to commence major expansion in the terminal capacity of the Guwahati Airport. We are making 1100 crore integrated terminal building which will cater to both domestic and international travel. We have also started another 500 crore new terminal project in Agartala. In addition, we are developing an airport in Pakyong, Sikkim which is nearing completion, as is the airport in Tezu, Arunachal Pradesh and we have also selected Holongi for another airport. Improvement in cargo trade is another area that we are giving a lot of importance to in Guwahati, Agartala and Imphal. We have formed a new subsidiary to focus on it.
This conference holds great importance in connecting India with all the BCLMV countries. The route between the North East and Vietnam in particular holds great potential, thanks to the short flying time and we are actively looking to explore this further. Presently, infrastructure development is very important here to bolster the foundation for air connectivity which will also subsequently help transform this region into an economic hub and attract bigger tourist arrivals and business into the North East. A stronger aviation network would go miles into strengthening the people-to-people linkages as well between our countries and I am hoping that in the near future, the Vietnamese airlines will look for opportunities to connect this region with Vietnam.
The Regional Connectivity Scheme is doing great for this region. With the North East in focus of the BCLMV countries, it is now the right time that we, as airlines, should look into establishing new connections between this region and the BCLMV countries. Of late there has been some considerable movement into this region with Guwahati being the hub but still there is a need of having a second hub possibly in Tezpur or Imphal. I have been professing for a long time for infrastructure to be developed to strengthen the North East and the BCLMV corridor and along with that there is a need to alter the current policies in favour of smaller carriers to operate without the restrictions into our bordering countries. It is time to improve connectivity here for both regional and international integration.
Pran S. Dasan Chairman-Aviation Advisory Committee, International Chamber for Service Industry
Gulshan Sharma Director-General International Chamber for Service Industry
Koustav M. Dhar Director, Zoom Air
Kazi Muntashir Murshed Assistant High Commissioner of Bangladesh, India
Guruprasad Mohapatra Chairman Airport Authority of India
Nguyen Le Thanh Counselor, Vietnam Embassy in India