The fresh incentive is in addition to already allocated amount of Rs 1,000 crore (10 billion) in the span of the next three years for the expansion of 13 airports in the newly formed Union Territory of J&K, Ladakh

To establish strong air connectivity in two newly formed Union Territories - Jammu & Kashmir and Ladkah, 13 fresh airports are in the offing - 11 for Jammu and Kashmir and two for Ladakh.

The prospective airports are scheduled in Jammu and Kashmir, shall be built in Akhnoor, Udhampur, Chambh, Gurez, Fukche, Jhanghar, Miran Sahib, Poonch, Rajouri, Panjgam and Chusal. On the other hand, Ladakh is set to get new airports at Kargil and Thoise.

Vast population in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh has remained deprived of the benefit of air connectivity, especially the higher reaches, which have negligible outside connectivity due to difficult weather conditions.

The Government of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir had signed a tripartite agreement for the implementation of RCS-UDAN soon after the launch of the Scheme by the Civil Aviation Ministry.

The fresh incentive is in addition to already allocated amount of Rs 1,000 crore (10 billion) in the span of the next three years for the expansion of three airports in the newly formed Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). This investment to improve connectivity is seen in light of the government’s plans to bring the territory closer to the rest of the nation.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) is currently working on fresh expansions at Leh and Srinagar, likely to be finished by July 2022.

Leh airport is the world’s unique airport in terms of its location at the highest altitude of 3,256 meters above sea level. Leh figures on the international tourist map and attracts a large inflow of tourists both from home and abroad. Leh airport’s expansion and modernisation was much required, which over the years became a victim of political apathy of Kashmir-based rulers of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Under the jurisdiction of the Indian Air Force, AAI maintains a Civil Enclave at Leh airport, which has now taken up the construction of New Domestic Terminal Building at the said airport at a cost of Rs.480 crore (4.8 billion). The New Domestic Passenger Terminal Building is proposed to be constructed on an area of 18,985 sqm and will have a capacity to handle 800 passengers during peak hours. After the construction of the new domestic terminal building, Leh Airport will be able to handle 1.6 million passengers annually.
A centrally air-conditioned building with heating system has been designed and it will have all essential passenger-friendly amenities and conveniences. The design of the building will reflect the philosophy of ancient Buddhist wisdom intertwined with modern ethos and closely incorporate Buddhist design elements in the overall look and feel of the building.

Interestingly, Srinagar airport has been developed as the first international airport of the Himalayan region and weekly flights were started from Srinagar to Dubai in 2009. Due to low demand from passengers, the flights were terminated in January 2010. However, a fresh expansion with a cost of Rs 495 crore (4.9 billion) has been ordered at Srinagar airport. The airport has an integrated terminal covering 19,700 square metres and can serve 950 passengers at a time.

By application of the standards of a modern airport and associated facilities for the passengers, Jammu Airport is lagging far behind looking to the importance of the winter capital city in more than one forms right from the angle of connectivity between its regions and with the rest of the country as also it being a prominent tourist spot of general, religious and adventurous categories.

“Government of India is trying its best to develop Jammu at par with rest of India with IIT, IIM, AIIMS, Metro, you name any top institution/project and it’s allotted to Jammu right now but without planning for a futuristic airport in place all these plans are bound to be hampered at one or another point of time. Keeping in view the earnest interest of our present government to provide equal development of all regions, we hope all bottlenecks are removed immediately to develop this Jammu airport as an International Airport. it is hoped that the timeline of June 2020 would be met with for construction of the new extended runway for the Jammu Airport,” stated Jatan Singh, a budding lawyer.

The AAI has also begun working on extending the runway at Jammu airport and is now in the process of seeking more land from the government for developing a new terminal. A total of Rs 77 crore (770 million) will be spent at the current development of Jammu airport.

Ironically, none of the three airports, currently in operation have night flying facilities cutting off the region from the rest of the country by air at night.

Though there have been announcements in the past to facilitate night flying in the region, it remained a piped dream all these years.

There has been vast demand of the residents of Kargil, Doda, Rajouri and Poonch areas of the Union Territories for air connectivity. The inhabitants of Kargil district, remain cut off from the rest of the country for several months every year due to massive snowfall at Zojila Pass. And people of border districts of Rajouri and Poonch only have road connectivity to Jammu. There is no railway and air connectivity yet.

Zulfiquar Sadaqaut, has to shift to Jammu for five months along with his family from Kargil every year. “My wife is suffering from kidney disorder and since we lose all connectivity with the outside world from October onwards till March, it’s difficult for many back home to seek medical help in an emergency. I am lucky that I have bought a small flat in Jammu but the majority back home lacks resources to shift. If we get air connectivity, it would be a boon as we would remain connected,” said Sadaquat.

A pre-feasibility study has been carried out by a multi-disciplinary team of AAI for the development of Kargil airport for civil operations suitable to operate Airbus 320 types of aircraft. AAI has also taken up the matter with the International Civil Aviation Organization to further explore the feasibility of aircraft such as B-737 operations to Kargil airport.

It has been learnt that MEHAIR Airline was allotted Kargil-Srinagar and Srinagar-Kargil sectors in the second round of bidding keeping in view the pressing demand of the inhabitants of Kargil district, the routes had to be cancelled due to non-compliance of SAO agreement by MEHAIR Airline.

Under the UDAN scheme, financial incentives in terms of concessions from the Centre, state governments and airport operators are extended to selected airlines to encourage operations from unserved and underserved airports to keep airfares affordable.