There was major disruption in flight operations at the Bagdogra airport (near Siliguri) in north Bengal, resulting in fears of yet another shutdown of the only airport in north Bengal. In April this year, the airport remained shut for a fortnight for repairs to the runway on which cracks had been detected.
The Bagdogra airport is used jointly for military and civilian flight operations. While the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Airports Authority of India are in charge of the passenger terminal, the Indian Air Force handles affairs at the Air Traffic Control.
Late on Wednesday evening, there was a statement from the Defence Ministry that stated: “Flight operations were temporarily suspended from Bagdogra due to unavoidable operational reasons. Sustained efforts are being put in by all stakeholders to resume normal operations at the earliest.”
It couldn’t be ascertained what the crisis was that led to suspension of services. Many wondered whether cracks had again been detected on the runway. On Wednesday morning, an earthquake struck Nepal, causing extensive damage in the country. Though Nepal is barely a few kilometre from Bagdogra and Siliguri, the epicentre of the earthquake was closer to northern India. Tremors were felt in New Delhi and parts of the National Capital Region as well.
Apart from being the only civilian airport in that region, Air Force Station Bagdogra also overlooks the narrow but extremely strategic Chicken Neck corridor of Siliguri that connects India’s northeastern states with the rest of the country. This corridor has been eyed by China as a sudden rush by the People’s Liberation Army through Bhutan could effectively cut-off India’s northeastern states from the rest of the country.
The sudden suspension of flight operations from Bagdogra, without any intimation by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, has got people wondering if there were certain strategic issues involved. Sources in the Eastern Air Command, however, maintained that the disruption is due to issues technical in nature.