Pakyong Airport

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Pakyong Airport
Pakyongsikkim.jpg
Summary
Airport typePublic
OwnerGovernment of India
OperatorAirports Authority of India
ServesGangtok
LocationPakyong, Sikkim, India
Opened24 September 2018 (2018-09-24)
Time zoneIndian Standard Time (+5:30)
Elevation AMSL1,399 m / 4,590 ft
Coordinates27°13′57″N 88°35′18″E / 27.23250°N 88.58833°E / 27.23250; 88.58833Coordinates: 27°13′57″N 88°35′18″E / 27.23250°N 88.58833°E / 27.23250; 88.58833
Map
Pakyong Airport is located in Sikkim
Pakyong Airport
Pakyong Airport
Location in Sikkim
Pakyong Airport is located in India
Pakyong Airport
Pakyong Airport
Pakyong Airport (India)
Runways
Direction Length Surface
m ft
02/20 1,700 5,577
Statistics (April 2018 - May 2019)
Passengers18,963
Aircraft movements328
Source: AAI[1]

Pakyong Airport is a greenfield RCS airport near Gangtok, the state capital of Sikkim, India.[2]

Spread over 201 acres (81 ha), the airport is located at Pakyong town about 31km (22 mi) south of Gangtok.[3] At 4646 ft, Pakyong Airport is one of the five highest airports in India.[4] It is also the first greenfield airport constructed in the Northeastern Region of India,[5] the 100th operational airport in India, and the only airport in the state of Sikkim.[6][7]

Inaugurated on 24 September 2018 by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi[8], commercial flight operations started 4 October 2018.[9] Upon its opening, major media across the globe praised its engineering and described it as one of the most scenic airports in the world.[10] Despite this, commercial flight operations have been hampered by low visibility due to poor weather conditions, being originally planned and designed as a Visual flight rule (VFR) Airport. Due to these visibility issues along with agitation from the local villagers, strip area issues and inaction by local administration, the airport's only commercial passenger airline SpiceJet stopped flight operations to the airport effective 1 June 2019. A resumption of flight operations has not yet been finalized by SpiceJet.[11]

History[edit]

Prior to the construction of Pakyong Airport, Sikkim had been the sole state in India possessing no functional airport.[12] Previously, the nearest airports used to access Sikkim were Bagdogra, located 124 km (77 mi) (and a five hour drive) away in the neighboring state of West Bengal, and Paro Airport in Bhutan.[13]

The project to develop Pakyong Airport was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in October 2008. The Punj Lloyd Group was awarded the 2,640 million (equivalent to 2.8 billion or US$39 million in 2018) contract to construct a runway, taxiway, apron drainage system, and electrical work for the greenfield airport in January 2009. The foundation stone for the greenfield airport was laid by the then Civil Aviation Minister, Praful Patel, in February 2009.[14]

The project was initially slated to be completed by 2012, but protests by local villagers, demanding proper rehabilitation and compensation, had resulted in suspension of work in January 2014.[15] The AAI intervened and held discussions with agitating villagers and paid part compensation allowing work to resume in October 2014. However, in January 2015, work came to a halt once again as villagers took to protests.[16] In July 2015, AAI and the State Government signed an MoU with AAI, promising to shift the affected households by 15 August so that AAI could resume work from October 2015.[17] These protest-related delays and landslides upslope of the runway resulted in suspension of work twice, escalating costs from 3,090 million (equivalent to 3.2 billion or US$45 million in 2018) to 6,050 million (equivalent to 6.3 billion or US$89 million in 2018).[17] Maximally ecological slope-stabilization techniques were used to remedy the landslide situation.[18]

On 5 March 2018, an IAF Dornier 228 landed on the completed airstrip, becoming the first aircraft to land at Pakyong.[19] SpiceJet had been awarded the Pakyong to Kolkata and Guwahati sectors under the second round of bidding for the Government's UDAN Regional Connectivity Scheme in January 2018[20] and it conducted a trial landing of its Q400 aircraft at Pakyong on 10 March 2018.[21] The airport received its commercial operating license from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on 5 May 2018.[22]

On 5 December 2019, 35 families affected by the airport's construction signed off on a joint agreement and accepted the first installment in compensation for their loss of land bringing years of protest to a close.[23]

Structure[edit]

The airport was built by the AAI at an estimated cost of 605 crore[17] featuring a 1,700 m × 30 m (5,577 ft × 98 ft) runway and a 116 m (381 ft) long taxiway connecting it to an apron measuring 106 by 76 metres (348 ft × 249 ft) that can accommodate two ATR 72 aircraft at a time.

A terminal building measuring 2,380 m2 (25,600 sq ft) with a capacity of 100 passengers, a car park for 80 vehicles and a fire station cum Air Traffic Control Tower was constructed by Ms PABSCON. Navigation facilities include NDB, DVOR, High Intensity Runway Lights (HIRL), airport beacon, and a PAPI.

The Pakyong Airport project is one of the tallest reinforced soil structures in the world.[24] The land for the airport was carved from the mountainside using massive geotechnical 'cut and fill' engineering works. These state-of-the-art geogrid soil reinforcement and slope stabilisation techniques were employed as traditional retaining structures and embankments were ruled out as being unfeasible. Italian geotechnical company Maccaferri given consultancy services to execute the project that envisaged a 150 m (490 ft) wide, 2 km (1.2 mi) long corridor on which the runway and airport buildings were to be constructed. The company, which completed the project with partners Mott MacDonald and Punj Lloyd, won the 'International Project of the Year' award at the Ground Engineering Awards 2012 for its work in constructing 74 m (243 ft) high reinforced soil walls and slopes at the site. [24]

Commercial flight operations[edit]

Although initially praised by worldwide media upon its opening as being "a breathtaking piece of engineering on the roof of the world" offering arriving passengers "one of the most dramatic airport approaches on the planet",[10] the airport's commercial flight operations have since been disrupted by poor weather conditions affecting flight visibility. In December 2018, 21 of SpiceJet's 31 daily flights (nearly 70% of its schedule) were forced to divert to Bagdogra (up to a five-hour drive away) because Pakyong "lacked the requisite navigation equipment for low-visibility situations", being a Visual flight rule (VFR) Airport as originally planned as per MOU 2002 & MOU 2015 among Civil Aviation GOI, Tourism Deptt Govt of Sikkim and AAI. Currently, Pakyong requires at least 5km (5,000m). The Airports Authority of India (AAI) would like bring this down to at least 2.5km (2,500m) with an instrument landing system (ILS), but says area residents were against it. An official in the Sikkim government cited issues that took place during the rainy season when landslides damaged small tracts of agricultural land affecting over 37 land owners of a nearby village uphill area.

As of 1 June 2019, SpiceJet, the airport's sole airline providing commercial passenger service, ceased its once daily Kolkata-Pakyong-Kolkata flight due to "unpredictable weather in Pakyong which results in very low visibility", having earlier suspended the other daily service between Pakyong and Guwahati.[25] Airline officials also cited the approaching monsoon season's aggravating effect on flight operations when announcing the service suspension. SpiceJet earlier conveyed that they will restart flight operation with effect from winter schedule i.e, 27 October 2019 but till date SpiceJet have yet not confirmed when they will resume Kolkata- Pakyong -Kolkata.[11][26]

In addition to fluctuating weather, adequate basic strip area (western side) issues have also hampered commercial flight operations. The basic strip, which is mandated to be a minimum of 75 m wide, is only 40 m in western side & 80m wide Eastern side along 2 km long. Contractors have been "unable to take up Civil works to extend the stretch of basic strip and erect a strong RCC Retaining wall with anchoring system" because the State Government of Sikkim at the time had not compensated few of the affected landowners.[27] In 5 December 2019, it was reported that 35 families affected by the airport's construction had been offered a compensation of 20.6 crore by the State Government and that there would be support in ensuring the full completion and operation of the airport.[28]

Military flight operations[edit]

As Pakyong Airport sits approximately 60 km (37.28 mi) from the India-China border, it is considered strategically important. In March 2018, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was the first to land an aircraft, a Dornier 228, at the airport. And in January 2019, an IAF Antanov-32 transport plane arrived "in an effort to boost the transportation of troops and material to this region."[29] At present security is being provided by State govt. of Sikkim as per MoU dated 30.6.2015 signed among Government of Sikkim ,Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India and Airports Authority of India.

Border disputes have gripped this Himalayan region for decades. The 2017 China–India border standoff took place over the Doklam pass on the tri-junction between China, India and Bhutan, situated roughly 54 km (33.55 mi) west of Pakyong Airport.[30]

Airlines and destinations[edit]

AirlinesDestinations
SpiceJet Kolkata (suspended indefinitely)[31]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "International Passengers" (PDF). aai.aero. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  2. ^ "Sikkim to have 100th functional airport in India".
  3. ^ "Wait for Sikkim air link".
  4. ^ "Sikkim's Greenfield Airport". Punjlloyd. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  5. ^ "Sikkim's Pakyong airport stuns before it flies".
  6. ^ "Sikkim to get its first airport at Pakyong". The Indian Express. 17 November 2007. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  7. ^ "Pakyong airport in Sikkim to become the 100th functional airport in India: Jayant Sinha". Financial Express. PTI. 3 May 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  8. ^ "PM Narendra Modi inaugurates Sikkim's Pakyong airport". The Economic Times. 24 September 2018. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  9. ^ "Sikkim's Pakyong Airport welcomes first commercial flight in state with water cannon salute". First Post. First Post. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  10. ^ a b Hiufu Wong, Maggie (25 September 2018). "India's new Pakyong Airport opens in incredible Himalayan surroundings". CNN. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  11. ^ a b https://www.spicejet.com/Schedules.aspx
  12. ^ Dey, Panchali. "Pakyong Airport to finally become operational this month". HappyTrips. Times of India. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  13. ^ Sen, Sutapa (19 August 2018). "Good news: Sikkim's first airport ready to start operations, 5 facts you need to know". DNA. iligent Media Corporation Ltd. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  14. ^ "Pakyong, first-ever airport in Sikkim, makes steady progress". ProjectsMonitor. 6 December 2010. Archived from the original on 19 July 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  15. ^ Dey, Supratim (30 January 2015). "Work on N-E's first greenfield airport comes to a halt". Business Standard India. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  16. ^ "North East's first greenfield airport comes to a halt". Business Standard. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  17. ^ a b c "AAI, Sikkim govt sign MoU for Pakyong Airport". Business Standard. 3 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  18. ^ "The Pakyong Airport landslide issue in India". 29 January 2015.
  19. ^ IAF's Dornier aircraft lands at Pakyong airport Economic Times 5 March 2018
  20. ^ "SpiceJet awarded 17 proposals and 20 new sectors under the second round of bidding for UDAN". SpiceJet Press Release. 24 January 2018. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  21. ^ Spicejet Bombardier Q400 78 seater aircraft makes historic landing at Pakyong Airport Voice of Sikkim 10 March 2018
  22. ^ "Sikkim's Pakyong Airport gets license". Millennium Post. 5 May 2018. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  23. ^ "35 Airport affected families compensated , thanks CM for speedy solution". The Voice of Sikkim. IPR. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 14 December 2019.
  24. ^ a b "Sikkim airport project wins UK award". The Economic Times. 15 May 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  25. ^ "No flights to Sikkim from June 1". Times of India. Times of India. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  26. ^ Sinha, Saurabh (25 May 2019). "No flights to Sikkim's first airport Pakyong from June 1 'till further notice', says SpiceJet". The Times of India. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  27. ^ Adhikary, Prakash (21 May 2019). "Operations at Sikkim's First Airport, Inaugurated Last Year, Likely to Be Indefinitely Halted". News 18. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  28. ^ "35 Airport affected families compensated, thanks CM for speedy solution". The Voice of Sikkim. The Voice of Sikkim. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  29. ^ "IAF lands An-32 aircraft at Pakyong Airport in Sikkim". ANI News. 17 January 2019. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  30. ^ Garver, John (16 July 2017). "This standoff is China telling India to accept changing realities". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  31. ^ "SpiceJet eyes resumption of Gangtok ops in early 4Q19". ch-aviation.com. 6 September 2019.

External links[edit]