By Esha Roy
Manipur to become vital regional hub for flights to SE countries
Calling it his dream project, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said: "Guwahati has had an international airport for years. But with India becoming more aggressive in its Look East policy and Myanmar opening up, Manipur will soon become a significant regional hub for international flights to South East Asian countries."
Underlining his government's seriousness, Singh added: "The Centre has sent a technical team to implement the plans and supervise the work. They told me Imphal is the first airport where as many as 700 acres have been acquired at one go."
Singh said he is looking beyond Myanmar. Manipur and other North-east states have considerable traffic to South-East Asia, and the state government is discussing the possibility of low-cost airlines flying to Imphal from Bangkok. The Thai authorities are seriously considering this, the CM said. "Our aim is that flights from our international airport should at least cover Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia to begin with."
Just one month after the Centre cleared the project, frantic construction is underway at the site of the existing Tulihal Airport on the outskirts of Imphal city. Airport Authority of India Joint General Manager Rakesh Bhatnagar said work is on round the clock.
With the existing airport building fairly recent, having come up in 1999, 85 per cent of the upgradation work is already complete. Rudimentary plans have been drawn up for a second, larger building to house the international airport functions.
"The existing building is small and the traffic so far isn't significant enough. But we are upgrading based on projected traffic over the next 20-30 years," Bhatnagar said.
The apron of the airport (where planes are parked) is currently being expanded to hold at least two more airbus. The security hold area of the airport is also being extended to hold 700 passengers at a time. The current capacity is 350.
The AAI is also working on integrating domestic and international functions.
Apart from the ones at Guwahati and Imphal, there are eight operational airports in the Northeast.
Imphal, Guwahati and Agartala airports are the only ones to have night-landing facility.