Why Sikkim’s Pakyong Airport is a man made disaster!


TNT Desk | January 16, 2019

William Shakespeare had in his famous play Romeo and Juliet rightly written, "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast."

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) should for once have paid heed to the above lines as peoples' experience with India's most beautiful airport in Sikkim, the Pakyong airport is far from 'beautiful'.

Inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the month of September last year, in just less than four months, the airport has begun to cause several inconveniences and draw flak from unhappy passengers looking for a 'beautiful' experience.


** 5 hour drive from Bagdogra: Various SpiceJet flights from Calcutta were reportedly diverted to Bagdogra on 21 out of 31 days in the month of December last. And why? Unavailability of navigation equipment in conditions of low visibility.

In times like these, the Bagdogra airport in Northern West Bengal is the only ray of hope for passengers.

** Lack of proper Navigation system) to ensure visibility: In what may be termed as a seemingly hasty project, standing at 4,600ft, Pakyong Airport has no proper navigation system in place. This means the pilots have to depend upon clear weather to land. In the absence of navigation aids, pilots have to follow visual flight rules (VFR) for landing. In layman's terms, a pilot must see where the aircraft is going and that is possible only when the weather is clear.

** Resentment from villagers in the vicinity of airport: An official in the Sikkim government blamed the AAI for the villagers' objection to navigation equipment being installed.

A quote from a report in the Telegraph quoted an official in Sikkim government as stating, "Before the airport was made operational, a hilltop had to be sliced off to enable 78-seater Bombardier Q400 series aircraft to land and take off with full capacity. This was done in a manner that caused landslides, which damaged large tracts of agricultural land. More than 60 households of a nearby village were affected and the state government paid Rs 72 lakh in compensation," he said.

In the month of November last, protesters demanded compensation as per the rules and rates applicable for the land sold by them for the Airport .

They claimed that the compensation paid to them was not appropriate. The villagers also moved the court in this regard. A commission has been formed headed by a judge and assessment is yet to be made.

** Frequent flight cancellations: India's 100th airport has nothing much to boast of other than its height and scenic beauty. This is because until December 17 last year, out of the 74 days that the airport has been in service, flights could be operated only on 46 days. The reason being unfair weather conditions.

But again, at 4,600ft, would it not be fair for the authorities to first install proper navigation aids as the weather is bound to be unfavourable at most times?

It may be mentioned that UDAN, a scheme which was implemented with an aim to boost air connectivity in Northeast India, has suffered many roadblocks in the recent past.

Featured image courtesy: Twitter