By Aafaque Hussain
SHILLONG: Despite being equipped with a state-of-the-art terminal, the Shillong airport located at Umroi has a long way to go before it can be at par with other airports in the region.
Till date, only an ATR flight from Kolkata lands in Shillong even though the airport has the capability to accommodate few more ATR flights which would largely reduce the burden of Shillongites who have to travel to Guwahati to board a flight.
Likewise, the state-of-the-art terminal, constructed at an estimated budget of Rs 25 crore remains empty most of the days due to the low flight frequency.
Although the State Government had handed over 224 acres of land last year for the expansion of the runway from the present 6000 feet to 7500 feet, which would facilitate the landing of bigger aircrafts, nothing concrete has materialised yet.
Sources say that a proposal of Rs 155 crore for the expansion of the runway is pending clearance from the Planning Commission of India and till then there is no possibility of any major airline operating from the airport.
Sources also stated the headman of the nearby village has stopped the construction of the boundary wall of the airport since they have not received compensation from the Government.
When contacted, Ri Bhoi Deputy Commissioner Akashdeep said that the process of paying the compensation is on and it will be disbursed soon.
According to Akashdeep, the construction was stopped for the portion of the wall which was not allowed to be surveyed earlier. The survey was done later, he added.
Meanwhile, the bigger problem that ails the airport is the State Government’s inability to acquire defence land required for the up gradation of the airport. Although the matter has been taken up with the Ministry of Defence on several occasions nothing concrete has materialised.
A visit to the airport recently showed that there is a huge chunk of barren land under the Defence authorities which could be utilised for the expansion of the airport.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) had earlier made a proposal to set up a cargo facility in the 35 acres of defence land located in front of the airport but the Ministry had refused to part with it.
The AAI has also approved installation of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) at the Airport but here again there is a land issue as some hills have to be chopped for the purpose.
The airport also needs a land for a refuelling station,
apron and staff quarters required for the development of the airport without which it cannot become fully operational.
The construction of the VIP road from Shillong to airport though going on and is expected to be complete in the next two years. However, land owners earlier had decided not to part with their land in the face of inadequate monetary compensation.
The Planning Commission earlier has approved Rs 28.45 crore for up gradation of the Shillong airport at Umroi which would be utilized for development of additional infrastructure facilities of the airport and under the approved amount terminal block and fire station would be constructed.