Punjab today urged the centre to allow airlines to choose different international airports across the country as their hub instead of limiting the choice to the six metropolitan airports only, to ensure balanced regional economic development in the country. Besides this, it was also demanded that keeping in view the religious importance and huge flow of pilgrims and tourists to Sri Harmandir Sahib, the Sri Guru Ramdas International Airport, Amritsar be made international hub with special focus on creating cargo hub as it is the old silk route to explore the Middle East trade potential.
Representing Punjab at a meeting held here at the Vigyan Bhawan under the chairmanship of Union Civil Aviation Minister Mr. Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati to discuss the draft civil aviation policy, State Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia made a forceful argument against the proposal of Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) to limit international hubs to only six metro in India circulated in the draft policy proposed by the union civil aviation ministry. He said the draft policy, if implemented, would be against the interests of people of various regions in the country as they would have to travel to international hubs for onward journeys. He also underlined the need for cargo hubs in all international airports as limiting these hubs to only six metropolitan airports would harm the interests of other international airports and regions of the country. He pointed out that due to the discriminatory attitude of Congress led UPA government, the Punjab has suffered a lot on Civil Aviation front as the Amritsar-London-Birmingham-Toronto flight was discontinued and the NRI Punjabis have to first to go to Delhi to take flight to these destinations and then these flights go above Amritsar.
He said that Sri Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar was one of the most visited first seven places throughout the world as people from every nook and corner of the world wants to pay their obeisance at this sanctum sanctorum but due to non-availability of direct flights they were unable to visit it. Underlining the need of developing Amritsar and Chandigarh international Airports as international hubs due to more than 25% passengers taking flights as well as landing in New Delhi were belonged to Punjab. He said that Chandigarh Airport has touched the figure of 10 lac passengers per year and growing at the rate of 20% increase annually. Making out a case for starting direct international flights from the Chandigarh airport by making it 24 hour operational from present eight hour duration, the Punjab Minister said if this was done people would be saved from travelling to Delhi for their onward journey.
He said if airports like CHAIL were allowed to operate direct flights to international destinations at the earliest it would serve as a huge economic multiplier for the region thereby giving big boost to tourism potential of this border state. He said that this Airport could well take care of passengers belonging not only to Punjab but also to Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Uttrakhand and a part of Haryana also. He said that the development of Amritsar and Chandigarh Airports could play an important role in decongestion of Delhi Airport. He also pointed out that a private airport operator could not be allowed to hold the entire northern region under ransom by implementing its own conditions. He also asked the Union Civil Aviation Ministry to take up the matter of renaming the new Chandigarh International Terminal as “Shaheed-E-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh International Airport, Mohali”.
Touching on another issue, Majithia also urged that the concession given to Air India to operate international destinations with one stop within India should be extended to all other domestic foreign airlines also, since this will allow all airlines to connect even remote regions in the country to international destinations. He also demanded for allowing non-scheduled operators having small Aircrafts to use the Airports not being used by scheduled operators so that local routes for example Chandigarh-Bathinda-Pathankot etc could be developed to facilitate people..Demanding the rationalization of the cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF), the Minister said the tax on ATF should be made uniform for domestic as well as international operations. He informed that Punjab took a lead in reducing VAT on ATF to 5.5 % from the earlier 20.5 % in the year 2012 and would now further bring it down to 4 percent. He further said that Civil Air Terminal at Bhisiana (Bathinda) was ready for commissioning and keeping in view the upcoming petro-chemical hub in the region after commissioning of Guru Gobind Singh Oil Refinery, Airports Authority of India should ensure for flight operations at the earliest. He further said that airlines operating flights to Srinagar from Delhi/Mumbai should be asked to make a stopover at Pathankot Civil Air Terminal to drop and pick up passengers. He also demanded the starting up of domestic flights from the industrial city Ludhiana.He also urged for setting up of a MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) facility at the Chandigarh international airport to create a north Indian hub for the maintenance of aircraft.