West Bengal may soon be home to a fourth commercial airport at Balurghat in the northern part of the state close to the India-Bangladesh border.
The transport department of the state government had a meeting with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) on Tuesday (28 August) to discuss the feasibility of the project. The state Public Works Department (PWD) had been entrusted with the task of preparing a cost estimate for building a terminal building, air traffic control (ATC) tower, peripheral wall and other civil works.
In 2016, West Bengal and the AAI had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to build the airport across 148 acre. A runway was built in 2017 under the Centre’s Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) at a cost of Rs 12 crore but due to the lack of runway lights and apron floodlights, the airport is currently not in use.
However, there is scepticism about the project’s viability with officials citing the Cooch Behar airport’s failure. The state’s third major airport – the Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport at Andal near Durgapur – had to shut operations due to lack of interest in 2016. It had reopened a year later under the RCS.
West Bengal has two operational international airports – the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport at Kolkata and the Bagdogra International Airport in Siliguri that serves Darjeeling and the Gorkhaland regions as well as neighbouring Sikkim, till the opening of the Pakyong Airport in Gangtok.
In contrast, neighbouring Assam has six commercially operation airports located at Guwahati, Tezpur, Silchar, Lakhimpur, Jorhat and Dibrugarh.