KOLKATA: Air connectivity with rest of India was opened for landlocked Himalayan state Sikkim when a SpiceJet plane from Kolkata became the first flight to land on its soil on Saturday.
History was created when a SpiceJet Q400 70-seater Bombardier plane took off from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport at Kolkata 10.30 am Wednesday and landed at Pakyong Airport, 32 km from Gangtok, at 11.45 am. The plane took off from the airport for its return journey to Kolkata at around 1.30 pm.
Built at a cost of Rs 650 crores, it took nearly nine years to start operations at the airport. Regular flights to Delhi, Kolkata, and Guwahati are likely to commence soon.
Majority of the Sikkimese were till now dependent on Bagdogra airport at Siliguri, some four hours drive from Gangtok, for commuting to and from major cities of the country. Incidents of flight misses were common due to frequent landslides on National Highway 10 connecting Siliguri with Gangtok.
Added to that, several Sikkim residents coming down to Siliguri to catch flights were beaten up by Bengali organisations during the height of 104-day Gorkhaland agitation last year after chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling shot off a letter to home minister Rajnath Singh supporting Gorkhaland statehood.
The civilian flight comes just five days after an Indian Air Force (IAF) Dornier 228 transport aircraft landed at Pakyong on March 5. Sources revealed that the necessity to kickstart operations at the airport became a top priority after the tense stand-off between India and China at the Doklam tri-junction of Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim last year.
Lauding the first commercial landing and takeoff, Sikkim’s lone MP Prem Das Rai credited his Sikkim Democratic Front government and Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling for the achievement. “Sikkim’s first commercial flight landed safely today. Spicejet. Great achievement #SDF government. Congratulation to Airport authority, State Government, State Tourism & Civil Aviation, builders, and land-donors. Well done,” he tweeted.
Bagdogra airport director Rakesh Sahay issued a release when the flight crossed the airport at over 21,000 feet above the sea level and hoped that increased civilian flights would boost the tourism sector of the economy.