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52 AsianAviation | October 2017
THE EIGHT HILLY STATES OF THE NORTHEAST REGION OF
INDIA, many of which share borders with China and Southeast Asia,
are looking at Guwahati in the state of Assam as a regional hub and
gateway from India to the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh,
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam (BCMLV), all within short
flying distances of around 45-60 minutes.
Already, a proposal for liberalisation of the legal framework has
been prepared by various governmental authorities, which includes
routing flexibility, domestic code shares for international connectivity
and Open Skies agreements between the northeast region of India
and the BCMLV countries.
Plans to implement the proposal are moving ahead with construc-
tion to upgrade Guwahati airport, which presently handles 3.9 million
passengers, but will be improved to handle 10 million passengers
in the near future.
" To connect ASEAN to the northeast region requires robust infra-
structure that is testing us. Generally, a growth rate of 10-15 percent
is assumed. India's domestic tra ic growth of over 20 percent has
thrown us over," acknowledged Guruprasad Mohapatra, chairman
of Airports Authority of India. He added the northeast region had 11
operational airports with 12 more that would be activated.
" The region should be based on the model of the Yunnan prov-
ince in China that has become an air connectivity entry point into
the Southeast Asian nations. It is time India starts leveraging the
northeast region as an entry into Southeast Asia," said Ravi Capoor,
additional chief secretary for Industries & Commerce for the govern-
ment of Assam. He added the busiest routes of the world including
Beijing-Shanghai and Beijing-Chengdu, are all within four to five
hours of the northeast region of India.
Guwahati is the country's eighth-busiest airport, handling 800
flights a week, up from three a week three decades ago. This
push is a build-up to the recently launched Regional Connectivity
Scheme (RCS) that encourages through subsidies the launch of
flights to remote and underserved destinations and the opening
of new airports. India recently launched the first phase of the RCS
and the second phase of bidding for routes is expected in the next
The di icult and hilly terrain, geographical location and short
working season of the region due to harsh weather conditions, in-
cluding heavy rain and floods, pose a challenge to the development
of infrastructure and communication links within the region and with
the rest of the country. Since an airport needs to be connected by
roads too, the government is addressing infrastructure bottlenecks
including road and railway connectivity, power transmission and
distribution and telecom connectivity.
Markets take time to develop, explained Shefali Juneja, director at
the Ministry of Civil Aviation. She added the BCLMV countries are
a dynamic, fast-growing region with close ethnic and cultural ties
with India and with high tra ic potential.
" The government's Open Skies policy in the National Civil Aviation
Policy includes Guwahati," she added and a deal with Vietnam is in
the works since it is one of the fastest-growing economies in the
world with a GDP increase of 6 percent for the past two years and
a rapid expansion of budgets for airline development. India is also
looking to sign an air services agreement with Laos.
While passenger numbers remain small, Juneja said the potential
for connectivity was tremendous with the northeast region. Suresh
Nair, AirAsia's general manager for India, Bangladesh and Sri Lan-
ka, noted India could learn something from AirAsia. "We are truly a
tourist-focused airline, having connected smaller regional routes in
Southeast Asia and beyond." Koustav Dhar, the CEO of the newly
launched regional ZoomAir agreed. "We have started routes in the
northeast region that have an 18-minute flight versus two days by
road. All we need is a relook at the aviation policy for the region."
India's aviation authorities are pushing for the
country's northeastern states to add connections
to Southeast Asia and become a regional hub as
contributor Neelam Mathews explains.
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