Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Grounded

Srinagar International Airport

Srinagar, May 6: Welcome to Srinagar International Airport. The Indian Air Force, which owns it, has leased out a couple of hundred acres to the Airport Authority of India. Here passengers are not allowed to carry hand baggage inside the plane. Woman can’t carry hand bags. There is parking space for only four planes. The tour and travel operators are still confused whether the Airport is named Srinagar International Airport or Sheikh-ul-Alam international Airport. There is no facility for currency exchange, no counter to receive guests, and no public convenience for people who visit the Airport for receiving passengers. Before 1990, the planes would stay overnight, but for the past 20 years they can’t, and flight take off from 11 AM to 3 PM. In summers, 18 flights a day depart and arrive.
In these times when swine flue scare is raging around the world there is no quarantine facility for medical examination of incoming passengers. There is no quarantine facility for animals and plants. Still it is an ‘International Airport’.


CLAIMS
The Director Airport Authority Srinagar, however, claims the airport has undergone renovations: an improved runway, a new terminal for departure and arrival, aerobridges and other operational facilities and several other changes. At present, scheduled international flights operate only to Dubai. Seasonal Hajj pilgrimage charters to Jeddah and regular scheduled flights to Jeddah are expected to start in first half of 2009. International airport with two aerobridges is presently competent to handle 500 domestic and 450 international passengers at a given point, he said.
He said that the six-section terminal building is projected to be the first to have inline baggage X-ray system. He said tarmac area has been expanded to 55, 820 sq mt from 13,045 sq mt and is able to accommodate nine instead of five aircraft simultaneously. Plans are there to have additional parking bays to accommodate wide-bodied jet aircraft and international chartered flights. Based on a Dubai design using less concrete and more glass the basic blueprint was to have six aerobridges, four escalators, 16 check-in counters and a central heating system.


SHORTCOMINGS
The tour operators don’t deny the raising of the infra-structure and other facilities but they say it is too little and lot has to be done. Nasir Shah runs the tour and travel agency. He says there are restrictions for the civilian aircraft between the sunset and sunrise and the IAF controlled Air Traffic Control enforces the restrictions strictly. “If the restrictions are withdrawn and facilities provided to planes for landing at any time it would be a major steps towards the internationalizing the airport,” he said. 
The Srinagar airport is only airport in India that has no facility of the Instrument Landing System. The ILS is a ground-based instrument approach system that provides precision guidance to an aircraft approaching a runway, using a combination of radio signals and, in many cases, high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing during instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), such as low ceilings or reduced visibility due to fog, rain, or blowing snow. Shah says the facility has not been introduced in the Srinagar and many a time flights have returned to other destinations for want of the facility.
The Airport has earned distinction of being the only ‘International’ Airport where the passengers are not being allowed to carry hand baggage, and with a limited capacity for only four planes. 
The tour and travel operators said the domestic and foreign tourists are shocked when they find they can’t carry hand baggage. A tour operator the restrictions won’t help government to develop tourism sector and conveys a wrong message about the place.
He said such restrictions were not imposed in Mumbai after the carnage there. Even the pilots are angry. “Is this international Airport where you don’t have space for four Airplanes for boarding,” said a pilot pleading anonymity.
The Srinagar International Airport has no direct coach service to ferry the passengers. The passenger has to pay huge amount to reach to their destinations. Nasir Shah says that the bus service to carry the passengers would have helped a great deal. “Every passenger has to pay Rs 400-500 to reach Lal Chowk,” he said. He said Auto Rickshaw drops outside the Indra Gandhi international Airport but in Kashmir it is not allowed.
The operators say there are not special lodges, duty free shops, international bank and no facility for foreign exchange. There are no Urdu signboards and no proper system for the custom checking.
There is advisory committee comprising MP Srinagar D.C Budgam, D.C Srinagar, Director Tourism and Director Airport and the committee has to review the arrangements of the Airport. However the committee headed by the member Parliament Srinagar has not met for last two years.
The Airport which was to be named as Sheik-ul-Alam International Airport instead was inaugurated by the Congress president Sonia Gandhi under its existing name, the Srinagar Airport. The Civil Aviation Ministry Government of India created hurdle in naming the Airport. The Ministry has not approved the proposal of re-christening the airport after the 14th century Muslim saint, Hazrat Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani (RA). The proposal is lying with the Civil Aviation ministry for a long time now. Interestingly in some of the brochures the Airport is being mentioned as the Sheik-ul-Alam international Airport. “If there is Indra Gandhi International Airport Delhi, Chatrapati Shivaji Airport in Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, then what is wrong with naming Srinagar International Airport as Sheikh-ul-Alam International Airport,” said a tour operator.


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