KOLKATA: Even as the future of the two revamped airports in West Bengal remains uncertain, chief minister Mamata Banerjee is planning to renovate a World War II United States Air Force airbase at Charra in Purulia district into a full-fledged airport.
The move to reopen the airbase — built in 1942 to fortify India against the Japanese in erstwhile Burma — has raised eyebrows due to the inconsistent running of operations at the Kazi Nazul Islam Airport in Andal located at the western part of the state and Coochbehar airport in north Bengal over the past few years.
Andal airport, the state’s first greenfield airport, is located between Asansol and Durgapur cities and was inaugurated in May 2015, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, operations at the airport dwindled after lone airliner Air India withdrew its tri-weekly service to Delhi in June 2016 citing lack of passengers.
Private airliner ZoomAir started operations in July 2016 but wrapped up operations within a month. Now, Air Deccan plans to begin operations at the end of the month.
The story is similar to the Coochbehar airport where flights to Kolkata started after 23 years in September 2011 but closed down soon after. Again, Air Deccan plans to restart operations there from mid-February.
Buoyed by these proposed re-openings, the chief minister has directed PWD additional chief secretary Indevar Pandey to visit Charra airfield and prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR).
The decision was taken after a meeting called by state chief secretary Malay Kumar De with top bureaucrats where Purulia district magistrate Alokesh Ray presented a report stating that the 272 acres of land at Charra airfield is free of encroachments and there is no need for land acquisition.
Sources in state secretariat Nabanna said Mamata Banerjee would visit the airfield after submission of the DPR. The state government is also aiming to operationalise Malda and Balurghat airports which saw the last flights in 1989. At present, West Bengal has two operational airports at Dumdum in Kolkata and Bagdogra in Siliguri. While Kolkata connects flights to northeast India and south-east Asia, Siliguri is the gateway to Sikkim, Bhutan and Darjeeling hills. The two airports are 546 km apart and witness full occupancy in the flights.
However, Andal airport is a mere 180 km from Dumdum whereas Coochbehar is only 162 km from Bagdogra. The presently planned Charra airport would be only 114 km from Andal airport and 292 km from Dumdum airport.