Flying to small towns
Once upon a time air travel was considered to be a privilege of the affluent and the well-to-do. Not so today. Even people of moderate means have often to travel by air in the present fast and furious age in which speed is of prime importance. The Union Civil Aviation Ministry’s move to put as many as thirty-three ‘unserved airports’ on the air map is therefore a welcome decision. The ministry reportedly intends to ‘revive’ fifty airports in small towns under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS). Over the past few years, railway fares have risen steeply and are still rising. An affluent middle class has also grown which can afford to pay for air travel. With big cities getting overpopulated, there is an urge on the part of the neo-rich to set up homes at small towns where land is still cheap compared to the big cities. Connecting these growing towns by air has now become a necessity rather than a luxury.
Even now there are certain State capitals which are connected by air but not by rail. Among them are Shillong (Meghalaya), Imphal (Manipur) and Aizawl (Mizoram). A fact hardly known to the people in the rest of the country is that the Indian Air Force (IAF) runs ‘free’ passenger services in certain inaccessible parts of the North-East. These are small aircraft needing short runways. There is no road connectivity in some of these areas. A journey from one place to another place, say a hundred kms away, has to be undertaken on foot over high hills and through dense forests. Small airports which were built during the Second World War and abandoned after the war, can be made serviceable again with a comparatively small expenditure.
Just as electronic data transfer is becoming faster and faster, there is a need for speedy transport of goods and human traffic. As development picks up, more and more hitherto inaccessible areas are opening up. More and more people are moving into such places, either as tradesmen or government officials or on private service. Connectivity to these areas can be provided by only by air. There is no other alternative. Even Arunachal Pradesh has got six airports. Greater air connectivity, particularly in the North-East, is the need of the hour for a variety of reasons. Nowadays almost all big cities shave superspecialty hospitals. Air connectivity will enable a critical patient in a remote and inaccessible area to be flown to the nearest centre where best treatment is available.