• Punjab and Haryana HC summons secretary of Civil Aviation Ministry, AAI chairman

    IRKED WITH the repeated failure of the Central government authorities to make it clear to the court the exact date of starting international flights from Chandigarh International Airport, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has summoned the secretary of Civil Aviation Ministry and chairman of the Airports Authority of India.

    Directing both the officers to remain present in the court at 10 am on May 30, a division bench comprising Justices S S Saron and Gurmit Ram remarked, “You are under misconception that we are begging you to start international flights. Just make a statement that [international] flights cannot be started. Each time you come and make fool of everyone.” The court was addressing Assistant Solicitor General of India Chetan Mittal.

    “We are just bothered that public money [spent on construction of international airport] should not be wasted,” the court said.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on September 11, 2015, inaugurated the Chandigarh International Airport on which around Rs 1,400 crore had been spent but no international flight is operational from Chandigarh so far.

    Raising a serious question, Punjab’s Advocate General Ashok Aggarwal alleged a “serious nexus” in Delhi resulting in delay of starting of international flights from Chandigarh. “Entire issue is being stage-managed by some person from Delhi. We know who is affected. It is a time-table game in airlines industry. A gentleman at Delhi says if you start flights from Chandigarh, XYZ is affected. Everyone knows it,” submitted Aggarwal.

    The Advocate General submitted that the Punjab government has spent a huge amount on construction of the international airport and Delhi airport caters to around 40 per cent of the international passengers from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and even Jammu and Kashmir. He said if the international operations are started from Chandigarh airport, it would also reduce huge traffic from Delhi roads every day.

    Petitioner Mohali Industries Association’s senior counsel Puneet Bali argued, “It needs to be probed by a high- level independent authority like the CBI or the CVC. Somebody is taking calls somewhere. It really needs inquiry.” He added, “Rs 1,400 crore has been spent on international airport and now every airline is coming here saying we can’t fly. Have they (central government authorities) not done homework earlier?”

    Addressing the Assistant Solicitor General of India, who informed that the proposal for relaxing the rules for the domestic airlines to start international operations is with the Cabinet but even then private airlines are not showing interest, the court said, “We are damn bothered about what airlines are doing.”

    During the arguments, the counsel appearing for the IndiGo airlines submitted that though they have got the customs clearance from Punjab, customs authorities in Delhi have not given them clearance to uplift duty-free liquor since March 29.

    The two airlines that have applied to the authorities and could start international operations in near future from Chandigarh are Air India and IndiGo. Jet Airways and Spice Jet have made it clear that as of now they have no plans to mount international flights from the Chandigarh airport. However, Go Air, Air Asia (India) and Vistara have submitted that they are not eligible to fly on international routes as per the existing rules. Jet Airways has also submitted that the cost of operation of international flights is very high and for Chandigarh-Canada-Chandigarh, it would be approximately Rs 2.6 crore for a round trip. “As passenger load is very less, it is not commercially viable,” it has submitted.

    Jet Airways has also raised various issues regarding operational constraints at Chandigarh airport like CAT-III Instrument Landing System for operations during foggy season, unavailability of Approach Landing System, closing of operations at airport between 8 pm and 7.30 am.  Jarrett Allen Jersey

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