The UDAN scheme, launched to connect small towns of the country, has turned out to be a farce in northern Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as private airline SpiceJet plans to suspend its services to Lilabari Airport in Lakhimpur district with effect from July 1, 2019.
SpiceJet started air service to Lilabari Airport five months back.
The airline has decided to suspend its operation to Lilabari at a time when easy and fast connectivity in this region is gaining momentum for the people of the area.
The Lilabari Airport has been upgraded with more facilities and activities following introduction of the air services by SpiceJet along with the already existing operations by the state-owned carrier, Air India.
The SpiceJet flagged off a daily direct flight on the Kolkata-Lilabari route on January 15 this year under the regional connectivity scheme ‘Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik’ (UDAN).
Lilabari was SpiceJet’s first destination in Assam under the UDAN scheme and the airline was “extremely delighted to launch services on the Kolkata-Lilabari route” as its chief marketing officer, Debojo Maharshi, said in a release during the launch of the service.
But on May 20, the Lilabari Airport director was informed by the airline that it would suspend its flight service to the airport from June 1 till further notice. However, SpiceJet extended the suspension to a fortnight and then to another one as bookings had been made by travelers throughout June on this route.
Now, the service of SpiceJet flights SG 3345 and SG 3346 will be suspended from July 1 onwards.
The sudden suspension of commercial services by SpiceJet to Lilabari Airport from Kolkata and Guwahati is going to upset the tourism and connectivity sectors in the northern part of Assam covering four districts (Biswanath, Lakhimpur, Majuli and Dhmeaji) and a considerable area from neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh including its capital Itanagar.
Lilabari Airport has already been upgraded with some economic activities like kiosks and other services.
The Airport Advisory Committee (AAC) of Lilabari under the chairmanship of Lakhimpur MP Pradan Baruah had discussed various issues related to making the airport user-friendly, handling congestion at the airport, maintaining cleanliness, providing local transport facilities and infrastructure development in the meeting held on June 22, 2018.
That AAC meeting discussed about connecting Lilabari airport with cheaper flights by SpiceJet under Mission UDAN and connecting Itanagar and Majuli with helicopter taxi service in the coming days.
Accordingly, SpiceJet connected Lilabari as its ninth destination under the UDAN scheme and operated daily flights to Guwahati and Kolkata.
There was enthusiasm among people in Lilabari when SpiceJet’s maiden flight was greeted with water salute at the airport.
SpiceJet’s chief marketing officer Debojo Maharshi said: “Owing to its proximity to Arunachal Pradesh, the airport will serve both the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh” at that time.
But before completing its services for six months, the fourth largest private airline is now planning to leave Lilabari.
The suspension of flights by SpiceJet to Lilabari has also left its ground staff to uncertainty at the airport.
Currently, there are twelve ground staff members of SpiceJet employed in Lilabari who will lose their jobs following the suspension of the flight services.
It may be mentioned that Air India has also been operating flights to Lilabari from Kolkata and Guwahati but their services are often marred by cancellation and irregularity.
The exuberant prices of the fare on these two routes by Air India have also been a problem for the people of this region to avail the benefits of UDAN scheme.