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The existing Visual Flight Rules (VFR), which require visibility of 5,000 m before landing, has been causing frequent cancellation of flights
The existing Visual Flight Rules (VFR), which require visibility of 5,000 m before landing, has been causing frequent cancellation of flights|EastMojo image 
NEWS

Sikkim: Frequent flight cancellations mar new airport in Pakyong

Till Dec 17, of the 74 days that the airport has been in service since its inception, flights could be operated only on 46 days; officials blame poor visibility conditions

Nitesh R Pradhan

Pakyong: Frequent cancellation of flights to and from Pakyong Airport, the only functional airport in Sikkim, has led to frustration among flyers.

The greenfield airport located near state capital Gangtok was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24 and the first commercial flight operations began on October 4 between Pakyong and Kolkata.

Till December 17 this year, out of the 74 days that the airport has been in service, flights could be operated only on 46 days, cancellations marring the remaining 28 days. This has irked air travelers at the airport, which, at 4,500 ft, is one of the five highest airports in India.

As per information received from Ramu Saha, director of Pakyong Airport, since its first day of operation on October 4, flights could be operated on 20 days in October and only 15 days in November. “From December 1 to 17, the airport saw flight operations only on 11 days,” he added.

The existing Visual Flight Rules (VFR), a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough for him or her to see where the aircraft is going, have been the causing the cancellation of flights, explained Saha.

“The weather information provided by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is key to the communication that takes place between the airport and the sole flight operator, the SpiceJet. One cannot take risk under adverse weather conditions,” he added.

Spicejet operates flights to and from Pakyong Airport under the Centre’s regional connectivity scheme, UDAN.

Due to frequent cancellation of flights, the airport has now started to wear a deserted look. When this correspondent visited the airport on December 18, among those few who were seen at the airport were flyers who had come to enquire about the refund process for cancelled flights.

“First, I got a call saying that my flight has been cancelled. But still, I came to the airport to enquire. They offered me to book a flight from Bagdogra, where the last flight takes off at 5.30 pm. From here, no matter how hard I try, I won’t reach Bagdogra before 5.30 pm,” said a Kolkata-bound flyer, who didn’t want to be named.

“The airline has informed us that money will be refunded in the next seven days. Let’s see if it gets credited to my account." he added.

Another traveller Nitish Kumar, who was planning to go to Guwahati and whose flight got cancelled, was at the airport to collect the reimbursement. “Now I’m looking for other options to go to Guwahati or else back to Gangtok,” he said.

With no Instrumental Landing System in place, Pakyong Airport will see more such cancellations in the near future, as weather conditions in the Himalayan region can often be unpredictable.

Often touted as one of the most beautiful airports in the world, the airport has failed to meet the expectations of travellers, particularly the residents of Sikkim, who have to heavily depend on their neighbouring state of West Bengal for any form of transit.

Pragya Satapathy, a Gangtok resident who has just travelled from Pakyong to Guwahati, while sharing her experience about her maiden flight said while the flight was packed, it was slightly delayed.

Because of the erratic flight pattern from Pakyong Airport, the taxi drivers from the area have also complained that their hope of resurgence in business has dipped significantly.

Pritam, a local taxi driver, said it has just been twice that he has had a passenger arriving at the airport and going to capital Gangtok.