Pakyong airport flight suspension: High Court takes up suo motu PIL

The near empty Pakyong airport on June 1 when Spiceject announced to suspend its flights for four months. SE file pic
Sat, Jun 8, 2019

AAI directed to explain why flight suspension, State asked if ready to give required land

The High Court of Sikkim has taken up a suo motu PIL following suspension of SpiceJet flights from Pakyong airport for a period of four months.
On June 1, the SpiceJet had put a notice at the Pakyong airport counter informing that the flight services have been suspended till September 30, as reported by SIKKIM EXPRESS. The low cost airline was the only commercial airline that operates from Pakyong airport providing flight services to Kolkata and Guwahati.
Sikkim now no longer has inbound and outbound commercial flights from its sole airport within eight months of receiving commercial air link.
On the basis of the SIKKIM EXPRESS report, a report was placed by the Registry before the Chief Justice following which the suo motu PIL was taken up by the High Court of Sikkim on June 6.
The Greenfield airport at Pakyong had been inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, 2018. The first commercial flight operations from the airport commenced on October 4, 2018 between Pakyong and Kolkata and continued till May 31, this year.
“As per the report of the Registry, there ought to have been 362 flights operational days, however, the flights have been operational only for 125 days. In the newspaper, it is reported that the Pakyong Airport is totally based on Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and requires five kilometres visibility to land. It is also stated therein that should the State Government desire to install Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) mode, more land will be required. For this purpose MoUs are required to be entered into with the Airports Authority of India and the Central Government,” noted the division bench of Chief Justice Vijai Kumar Bist and Justice Meenakshi Madan Rai.
Accordingly, the division bench suo motu impleaded SpiceJet Limited as a respondent in the writ petition and ordered that notice is issued to the new respondent. The other respondents include Airport Authority of India, State government and Central government.
Counter-affidavits are to be filed within a period of four weeks.
The Airports Authority of India was directed to file all relevant documents pertaining to the airport from inception with detailed reasons as to why the flight operations have been suspended for four months since unpredictable weather is a given in this area. The authority was also directed to give proposals for better flight operations.
The division bench directed the State government to furnish its stand as to whether they are ready to acquire/give the required land to the Airports Authority of India for installation of the IFR mode.
The Central government was directed to clear its stand pertaining to financial liabilities.
The matter would be heard next on July 8.
Flight operations from Pakyong airport has been marred by frequent cancellations due to unpredictable weather resulting in low visibility for the flights to land.
According to the airport authorities, the approaching monsoon will further aggravate the situation and to avoid such inconvenience to the passengers, flight operation has been temporarily suspended till September end.
Service will be resumed from October 1 when the rainy season ends and weather improves, airport director Ramatanu Saha had said to SIKKIM EXPRESS previously.
According to the airport director, at least 75 meters basic stripe (width) in both side of runway is needed to land the aircraft but now the width at hillside is only 30 meters due to sliding of the hills.
Pakyong airport is totally based on (VFR) visual flight rules mode and need 5 kilometers visibility to land. However, there are many obstructions for installations of (IFR) Instrument Flight Rules mode, which allows aircraft to land even in foggy weather. Obstructions are mainly the hilly side and Pakyong bazaar.
If the State government desires for IFR mode to be installed, more land will be required and again MoUs need to be done with the AAI and the Centre government.

Area: 7096 Sq Km
Altitude: 5,840 ft
Population: 6.10 Lakhs
Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 ft. to over 28,509 ft above sea level
Summer: Max- 21°C ; Min – 13°C
Winter: Max -13°C ; Min – 0.48°C
Rainfall: 325 cm per annum
Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi