In a move which will help in the growth of trade and tourism industry in the Asansol- Durgapur industrial belt in West Bengal, the State chief minister, Mamata Banerjee announced that the commercial operation of the country’s first private ‘Greenfield Airport’ at Andal in Burdwan district will start from May 18, 2015 with a six-day-a-week flight service between Durgapur and Kolkata.
Banerjee said, “Commercial operations at the Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal will begin initially with domestic air service from May 18 followed by international operations at a later stage.”
Only last month, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), awarded Aerodrome License to Bengal Aerotropolis Projects (BAPL), the developers of the INR 750 crore Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport, set up in collaboration with Changi International Airport, Singapore to operate commercial flights. It would be operational under India’s Greenfield Airport Policy.
Banerjee said this will help in connecting rural Bengal to Delhi and Mumbai. Passengers boarding from Andal will be able to avail connecting flights from Kolkata with luggage check-in facility.
The chief minister also announced the state government’s decision to waive sales tax on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) for five years for carriers refilling at the airport to make Andal a lucrative destination. She felt that the incentive will help in bring-in more airlines to Andal and thereby help in the growth of the business and tourism industry of the region.
To start with, Air India through its subsidiary Alliance Air, would operate a 45-seater ATR aircraft six days a week. She also announced that Pinnacle Air, a non-scheduled airline that also operates chartered flights, later would fly a small aircraft on the Kolkata- Durgapur- Bagdogra- Cooch Behar route for four days a week.
Stating that the entire region would be immensely benefited from this service, Banerjee announced 25 per cent concession in the air service for students, land-losers and government officials from Durgapur and adjoining industrial towns like Asansol, Raniganj, Bolpur, Santiniketan and Jangalmahal for a year.
Besides, ailing residents of Jangalmahal area who opt to travel by air to Kolkata or Mumbai for undergoing medical treatment can avail concessions to the tune of 25 per cent, she said. But the aviation and tourism industry experts are not very much optimistic about the current prospects of the new airport. A private airline official said, “It is difficult to get that many passengers from Andal at this stage. Most airlines don’t have small aircraft like the ATR. The Kolkata- Andal route is commercially challenging for any private airline.”
Most of the aviation and tourism industry experts feel that to make the airport self-sustainable and the airline companies to reach break-even, the city where it is located and the catchment areas should generate enough business passengers as they are the ones, who ensure year-long occupancy of seats. But there are few business travellers to this region due to lack of major industrial activities in this area. Tourism activities in the region too are yet to flourish.