After the telecom sector, another sector that looks to me vibrant today in India is the civil aviation sector. This is a sector where things have started happening. Events like Pune and Coimbatore getting international connections; Bangalore and Hyderabad having regular flights for international destinations and private airlines from India flying abroad make one happy. Determination and vision exhibited by promoters like Capt Gopinath has been commendable. India’s middle-class and youth now are increasingly realizing the advantage of flying. Some promoters have been propelled by lofty thoughts that our people deserve to go places by air though cheap flights. India currently has five low cost airlines—Air Deccan, Spice Jet, GoAir, Paramount Airways, and Kingfisher. At least three more are expected to commence operation next year.
While more and more people are now flying and taking advantage of cheap flights, Orissa seems to be mostly out of the zone of the revolution, which presently is churning the Indian sky. True, Bhubaneswar has been having a daily connection with Hyderabad in a service of Sahara Airlines and Air Deccan operates daily flights to and from Kolkata. Indian Airlines operates daily flights for Bhubaneswar from and to Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi and also connects Kolkata. Air Sahara has now planned a daily flight for Bhubaneswar from and to Delhi and Kingfisher has now commenced its operation connecting Bhubaneswar with Hyderabad and Delhi. Except the Air Deccan’s schedule, no other timing seems to be convenient to the passengers resulting in waste of working hours both at Bhubaneswar as well as at the destination points. The fare structure is high; it costs more for a return fare on Mumbai-Bhubaneswar route or on Delhi-Bhubaneswar route than a return fare on Mumbai-Dubai or Chennai-Singapore route. There is no air connectivity for any other town of Orissa.
This situation should change. The current and expected industrial or commercial activity in and around Jharsuguda, Rourkela, Barbil, Sukinda, and Therubali would justify air connection to these places. All these places have airstrips. Jharsuguda aerodrome has tar macadam surface and is 6300 ft long and 150ft wide. Aerodrome at Rourkela has tar macadam surface and is 4000 ft long and 100ft wide. Aerodrome at Barbil has kutcha surface; it is 3000 ft long and 150ft wide. Sukinda airstrip has tar macadam surface; it is 2925 ft long and 130ft wide. Therubali airstrip has tar macadam surface; it is 4000ft long and 200ft wide. Government does not own some of these airstrips. For example, the SAIL owns the one at Rourkela and Tata Steel owns the airstrip at Sukinda. All these facilities would need investment for renovation so that safety is not compromised and reasonable amenities for the passengers and crew are also provided for. This task need to be coordinated by the government, preferably through a nodal agency.
In other places entrepreneurs are busy planning for getting into the aviation sector and to bring more flights to more and more towns. One such case is of a group of US- based NRIs who are planning to join the low cost airline boom in India. Mr. Umapathy Pinaghapani, who runs an IT consulting firm and food distribution chain in the USA, along with four other NRIs and some Indian partners have plans for a low cost airline to operate from Chennai. Their plan is to connect major metros of the country with major focus on cities in south India. The promoters are likely to seek the services of expatriate professionals to run the airline.
It is my hope that some enterprising Indians who have proved their talent and have been successful in their profession would come forward to promote a low cost airline for Orissa which would provide intra-state connectivity and also connect Bhubaneswar with places like Goa; Mumbai; Delhi; Kolkata; Bangalore and nearby cities like Vishakhapatnam, Raipur and Ranchi. The Orissa towns and the nearby cities mentioned above could be connected with appropriate small aircraft having about twenty seats. The major cities need to be connected with bigger aircraft. A no-frill economical airline oriented towards serving the state would act as a catalyst for faster growth of industry, tourism and trade. When the Indian skyline is increasingly having new players, it is desirable that a state, so rich in natural endowments, also benefits from similar initiative.
The writer is a former secretary to the government of India