Chandigarh airport finally gets international connectivity


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, September 15: Exactly a year and four days after it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chandigarh International airport with its new terminal at Mohali in Punjab came on the international map today as the Air India Express flight landed from Sharjah at 5.15 pm. Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal along with a delegation boarded the return flight.

Punjab claims it to be Mohali international airport. However, it is just the new international terminal and other related facilities that are in Mohali. The boundary of the Chandigarh airport touched Mohali and it could have been extended only towards this side. Chandigarh airport is essentially a defence establishment from where civil flights started in early seventies. It is operated by the Indian Air Force and this is the major limitation. It is upto the defence authorities to upgrade its runway to international standards to facilitate the landing of bigger aircraft and the latest instruments landing system to make it all-weather. In case work on it is started today, it would take about two years to be completed.

At one level, it is the Mohali Industries Association that can take part of the credit for getting it operationalized although it was the dream project of Sukhbir Singh Badal.

The association had approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court on this issue and the latest court directive is dated September 1. This directive is  about its upgradation. During earlier hearings, the court has sought commitment from the authorities concerned and the airlines to start international flights from here. It is on the directive of the high court that this airport has become operational.

It was on December 24, 2015 that the Mohali Industries Association filed a public interest litigation  in the  High Court for non-operation of international flights after an amount of Rs. 1400 crores had been spent on the new Mohali terminal. Punjab and Haryana each have 24.5 per cent stake with Airport Authority of India having majority stake at 51 per cent in this new terminal.

A new company Chandigarh international airport ltd was set up for this terminal.

The old civil terminal too had been renovated before completion of the new Mohali terminal. The old civil terminal  was declared a customs airport on August 19, 2011 making it eligible for international flights.

The Operationalization of Chandigarh international airport would directly hit the revenue of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi that is being managed by a private company GMR. It is this aspect that has delayed its operationalization. The Amritsar airport has earlier suffered on this account with several international flights from Amritsar having been withdrawn. The Punjab government has failed to protect the interests of the Amritsar international airport.

Whatever the Punjab government might be claiming, in the government record, it is Chandigarh international airport. It is just the new terminal that is managed by the Chandigarh airport authority. The facility is operated by the Indian Air Force and hence restrictions on timings and the number of days international flights can be operated. The airport remains shut for days during winter due to heavy fog and that would continue to be the major constraint till upgradation of the runway  that would also have to be extended by at least 2000 feet to accommodate bigger aircrafts.

In case the airport gets linked to Singapore or Bangkok, the passengers in this region would get connected globally. Sharjah is linked to American and European sub-continent while countries like Australia and New Zealand  get connectivity from Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong.

It is for airlines to start flights to these destinations as that would end dependency of this region on Delhi.

Mohali is already connected to almost all the district headquarters in Punjab with super luxury Mercedes buses. The timings can be adjusted to the flights.

Both Punjab and Haryana had been engaged in tug of war on naming of the airport as Punjab wants it to be Mohali international airport in the name of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. None would object to naming it after Shaheed Bhagat Singh but essentially, it is extension of the Chandigarh airport and not a new airport.

One only hopes  this airport does not meet the fate of Amritsar international airport going by the long delayed operationalization after its completion.


Jagtar Singh


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