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By A Newsman

Siliguri, 16 October: DESPITE the unrest in Darjeeling stopping the flow of tourists for nearly four months from June – September, Bagdogra Airport in Siliguri has witnessed a 36 per cent passenger growth this September as compared to the same month last year.

Bagdogra Airport, for now, is the only operational airport that provides air connectivity to entire north Bengal and Sikkim. This outstanding growth should have brought cheers to the civic aviation sector, had this been an organic one!

But going by the industry insiders, the increase has been mainly due to the prolonged suspension of train services between north Bengal and the rest of the country after railway tracks were washed away by floods.

Trains were suspended from 12 August, only to be partially restored from 7 September. Bus services from Kolkata to Siliguri too were suspended for nearly a week. This twin suspension had compelled people to opt for air travel, thus pushing up the number.

According to Bagdogra Airport director Rakesh Sahay, in September 2016, the number people who flew out of flew in at Bagdogra was a little over 1.07-lakh. This September the figure has crossed 1.45-lakh, thus registering a rise of 38,365 flyers or 36 per cent growth.

“As regards the year-on-year growth for April-September, last year it was around 6.55-lakh, this it stands at 10.65-lakh.  This makes it a growth of 62 per cent, and at this rate, we may touch 2 million figure in this 2017-18 fiscal year,” Sahay added.

A civil aviation expert in Kolkata, however, is not that upbeat. “Increase in flyers number during Durga Puja-Kali Puja (September-October period) is a common phenomenon and hence, this cannot be termed as organic growth. We shall have to see whether the growth is sustained for over a prolonged period.”

Having said that, he admitted that ever-since Indian Railways introduced dynamic fares for long-distance trains and the corresponding discounted fares that are being offered by airlines from time to time, more people are taking up air travel.

“This is because at nominal hike in expenditure they are getting the benefits of air-travel as compared to the hazards of a train country,” he explained.

Bagdogra Airport passenger figures as provided by the airport management.
Bagdogra Airport passenger figures as provided by the airport management.