Agartala: The Agartala airport, which was first built in 1942 after the land was donated by the then Tripura king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur and was used as a technical base for the Royal Air Force during World War II, would likely be declared an international airport soon to boost air connectivity with the neighbouring countries.
According to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) officials, Agartala airport, located 20 km north of the Tripura capital city, in terms of handling of aircraft and passengers is the second busiest airport in northeastern India after Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International (LGBI) Airport in Guwahati.
The LGBI and Bir Tikendrajit International Airport in Imphal (Manipur) were earlier declared international airports.
The Civil Aviation Ministry would soon declare Agartala airport as an international airport, officials of AAI and the Tripura Transport Department said.
Agartala airport, earlier known as Singerbill Airport, was renamed after Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur in July 2018. It is being used in a big way by Bangladesh nationals, for whom Agartala sometimes is the first stop to a destination in India or overseas as the airport is much closer to their areas than their own country's airports.
Tripura Transport and Tourism Minister Pranajit Singha Roy said that as the MBB airport was already developed with all international facilities and standards, the state government has been urging the central government to initiate operation of flights from this airport to the neighbouring countries.
"When Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M Scindia visited Agartala along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 4, he (Scindia) responding to our request said that the government is trying to operate flights from Agartala to Bangkok via Guwahati airport," Roy said.
He said that the Tripura government had on a number of occasions proposed to the Central government to operate flights from Agartala to Dhaka, Chittagong and other cities of Bangladesh as it would be a very economically viable route.
Roy, who also holds the Agriculture portfolio, said Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has already discussed with the Prime Minister and Civil Aviation Minister and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to operate flights between Agartala and cities in Bangladesh.
"Scindia also informed us that Kailashahar airport (in northern Tripura) would be functional as soon as possible. If flights are operated from Kailashahar airport, people of Bangladesh, southern Assam and Mizoram would also be benefited to travel to various Indian states and abroad," the Minister said.
Kailashahar airport, also along the international border and near to resource rich Sylhet district of Bangladesh, has remained closed since June 1992.
According to historian and writer Pannalal Roy, the land for the Agartala, Kailashahar and various other (now abandoned) airports in Tripura had been donated by the then Tripura kings.
"During the Second World War, King Bir Bikram supported and helped the Allied powers, especially Great Britain. He deployed a contingent of the Tripura Army to assist Great Britain. During that time Agartala, Kailashahar and other airports were built to facilitate the Allied powers," Roy, who authored many books on Tripura's royal history, said.
He said that in 1943 Japanese fighter planes twice bombarded Agartala airport.
Historian Salil Debbarma said that at the end of the 1355-year rule by 184 kings, on October 15, 1949, the erstwhile princely state of Tripura came under the control of the Indian government after a merger agreement was signed between regent Maharani Kanchan Prabha Devi and the Indian Governor General.
According to AAI official S. Haokip Jempu, the Agartala airport was used as a technical base for the Royal Air Force during World War-II when the Allied Forces took on the Japanese soldiers in Arakan Ranges, in Burma, now Myanmar.
"The first known flight which took off from this Airport was Curtiss C-46 Commando transport aircraft of 4th Combat Cargo Group (4th CCG) of the United States which flew to Burma (Myanmar) during World war II in December 1944 and January 1945," he said.
Jempu said that the new integrated terminal building with state of the art infrastructure will have a handling capacity of three million passengers per year.
"With a built-up area of 30,000 sq. metres, the new terminal building has been designed to handle 1,000 domestic and 200 international passengers during peak hours and it is equipped with all modern amenities," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new integrated terminal building of MBB Airport, built at a cost of Rs 500 crore, on January 4.
According to AAI officials, international flights were operated from Guwahati's LGBI airport to Bangkok, Singapore, Paro (Bhutan) and Dhaka (Bangladesh). In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, all the international flights were suspended.