Deoghar airport taxies to AAI table

New Delhi, Dec. 11: After capital Ranchi and steel city Jamshedpur, temple town Deoghar is poised for take-off.

A senior Airports Authority of India (AAI) official said the AAI board would meet on December 15 to decide on flight feasibility from Deoghar in a follow-up to Union civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi's announcement in Parliament.

On December 7, in a reply to Hazaribagh BJP MP Yashwant Sinha on modernisation of Birsa Munda Airport, the minister had said that though the priority was to complete the Ranchi project, Deoghar was also under consideration.

The Jharkhand cabinet has already agreed to a proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the AAI.

The draft MoU, a copy of which is with The Telegraph, says that the state will spend Rs 50 crore and the Planning Commission will grant Rs 300 crore for the project. First, infrastructure will be developed for ATR-72 aircraft and subsequently, A321-class aircraft will also start services. The airport will be run by the AAI on a long-term lease, for which the state will have to provide land for free.

The AAI will bear all recurring costs for maintenance and operations and Jharkhand will handle or pay for security, including an anti-hijacking squad.

The state will also provide free power and water for the first five years after operations begin. The airport will not have to pay any state property or municipal taxes for these many years.

Deoghar already has a 53.41-acre aerodrome. The state will have to acquire an additional 675 acres. Two runways ' one 2,700-metre long and 45-metre wide and the other 2,820-metre long and 300-metre wide ' will be laid along with a parallel taxiway and an isolation bay. The proposed airport will include a 156-acre space for a terminal, a car park, a cargo complex, taxiways and a residential colony. Experts from the AAI had met Jharkhand's civil aviation officials in October and discussed the plan.

State civil aviation department sources said that since the plan was still "fluid", statistics on passengers and flight capacity were not ready yet. "Initially, Deoghar will be a domestic airport. It, however, has the scope of hosting an international terminal, though only after Ranchi has one. We expect a huge influx of tourists during Shravani Mela (in July-August)," a source said.

During the India International Trade Fair here last month, state chief secretary S.K. Choudhary had told industrialists that Deoghar had the potential of Bodh Gaya ' to develop around pilgrim tourism ' and that the proposed airport would be the first step in that direction.

"Deoghar has immense potential. Apart from tourism, its industrial hub of Jasidih and close proximity to the Calcutta-Hooghly market attract investors. This airport will be on a par with Ranchi," Jharkhand civil aviation secretary V.K. Singh told The Telegraph.

He clarified that the proposed Dumka airport by the Jindals would only be for private flights and government air surveillance needs. Hence, it would not violate the regulation against airports within 150km of each other (distance between Dumka and Deoghar is around 60km).

"The negotiations for the airstrip (Dumka) are in its final stage too," Singh added.

Nishikant Dubey, the BJP MP from Godda, called the Deoghar proposal a victory for the people of Santhal Pargana.

"For one year and a half, we have been demanding a fully operational airport in the region. Flight services will increase tourist flow to this pilgrim spot and boost our economy."