When the railway network and the national highways to Barak Valley are in completely dilapidated condition, the feeble air link to the region through the Kumbhirgram Airport has emerged as the most reliable mode of communication for reaching the valley now.
The people of Barak Valley must thank the British for establishing the Air Force Base there during the World War II days; otherwise, it is most unlikely that any government of independent India would have bothered to build an airport in Silchar. Moreover, the airport continues to function even today, because civil aviation is a central subject and therefore, our greedy public representatives have not been able to usurp the money that is sanctioned to run the airport.
Even though the passenger traffic of the airport has almost doubled in the last few years, the airport and the air services to the region continue to be riddled with a plethora of problems. In comparison to the growth in traffic, the increase in the number of flights to the airport is grossly insufficient leading to regular unavailability of tickets and rapid increase in fares. Sudden cancellations and inordinate delays are also a regular feature of the services. Because of almost non existent competition, the Airline operators also do not bother to address these legitimate grievances of the passengers.
Silchar Airport – Traffic Details (As per Airport Authority of India)
Total Annual Traffic
1,55,412 (2009-2010) from 82,519 (2004-2005)
Total annual flight movement
4,464 (2009-2010) from 2,234 (2004-2005)
Air India and Kingfisher Red operate one ATR flight each daily from Kolkata to Silchar along with an Airbus 320 service of Air India that runs for four days a week. While the Airbus service has given the much needed relief to the passengers, the remaining three days of the week, when the Airbus does not operate, there is huge rush for tickets as the two ATR flights offer only about a hundred seats which is insufficient for the passengers. Moreover, both the ATR flights operate in the morning hours due to which there are no connecting flights for the rest of the day for passengers coming from other Indian cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad or New Delhi.
Even a few years back, when the road link to Guwahati was in perfect shape, there were no takers of the flight to the state capital. However, with the deterioration of National Highway 44 connecting Barak Valley with Guwahati, now there is a huge demand for the service between the two cities. But sadly, currently, there is only one Air India run ATR flight operating between the two destinations. Kingfisher had started a service a few years ago, but it was discontinued later. Especially, during the days when the road link is blocked due to landslides or strikes, the prices of the tickets on this route increase up to Rs. 15,000. The newly introduced North East Shuttles operates an 18 seater flight from Monday to Saturday, but these small aircraft are not contributing much in terms of catering to the increased traffic volumes.
Both Air India and Kingfisher Red have ATR services to Imphal. North East Shuttles also operates a nine seater flight from Monday to Saturday. Due to the bad condition of National Highway 53, the air link is practically the only mode of communication between the two places.
Recently, state minister Gautam Roy has announced that Jet Airways will run a 68 seater ATR service on the Kolkata-Silchar-Guwahati route from the 27th of March. If run properly, this service will surely provide great relief to the commuters.
A massive 50 crore renovation package was initiated for the airport by the government about five years ago. While the 5,857 feet long runway was increased to 7,500 feet, the Instrument Landing System (ILS) crucial for landing during the night and rainy conditions was also installed. However, inexplicably, these facilities have hardly been utilised so far. There are no scheduled flights after sunset even today despite the fact that the required apparatus for the same is in place.
Silchar Airport – Basic details (As per Airport Authority of India)
150 (Arrival) 150 (Departure)
Check in Counters
Availability of Trolleys
Assistance to Physically Challenged/ Availability of wheelchairs
Rest Rooms for transit passengers
One (Rs. 250 for single occupancy and Rs. 400 for double occupancy)
On call through arrangement with the Indian Air Force (IAF)
Child Care Rooms
For 75 cars (Paid)
Parking Bays for Flights
4 (Bay 1,2 and 3 for Airbus 320 and Bay 4 for ATR flights)
Air India, Kingfisher, North East Shuttle, Jet Airways (Expected from 27th March as per media reports)
Officially, Silchar is the fourth busiest airport of the north eastern region after Guwahati, Agartala and Imphal. But the Dibrugarh airport enjoys far better connectivity. Dibrugarh has regular flights from Delhi while Silchar has none. The Dibrugarh airport has recently been reopened with a new renovated look, while the one at Silchar can at best be called a functional airport with the bare minimum facilities only.
|Silchar Airport (Photo Courtesy: Airport Authority of India)|
|The new look Dibrugarh Airport (Photo Coutesy: Airport Authority of India)|
The 24 kilometre road stretch connecting the airport with Silchar town is also in poor shape. Though the section from the Airport to Udharbond has been double laned last year, the remaining part up to Silchar is in a horrible condition. The crucial Barak bridge at Sadarghat is also crying for attention. If the arterial bridge is not repaired immediately, the day is not far when the air passengers will have to cross the mighty Barak by boats to reach the airport.
In the absence of roads and railways, the common man on the streets is in completely disarray as he cannot even afford the luxuries of air travel. For middle class migrants like me, the air link is my only hope to visit home at least once a year even though it leaves a huge hole in my pocket. Really, are we living in the 21st century?
Air Services to Silchar (Source: Yatra.com) (The timings may not be accurate. Please check local listings for latest changes)
Kolkata - Silchar Flight Schedule
Guwahati - Silchar Flight Schedule
Imphal - Silchar Flight Schedule
Agartala - Silchar Flight Schedule
· The newly introduced North East Shuttles Air Service operates an 18 seater flight between Guwahati and Silchar from Monday to Saturday and a nine seater flight from Imphal to Silchar on the same days.