Leh airport expansion caught in admn tangle

IAF seeks alternative land before vacating 11.8 acre identified for project

Leh airport expansion caught in admn tangleThe expansion of strategically-important Leh airport, one of the world’s highest airfields, has failed to clear administrative hurdles, with the Indian Air Force (IAF) insisting on alternative land before vacating the area identified for the project.
The expansion of the Leh airport, located 10,683 feet above the sea level, includes construction of new terminal building to cater to peak-hour passenger rush and creation of new parking bays.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has requisitioned 11.8 acre of land for the purpose.
Once the expansion is completed, the upgraded infrastructure will cater to around 600 passengers at a time while the bay capacity will increase from the existing two to five.
“The project has been hanging in balance for the last four years. The land identified for the expansion project belongs to the state government, but it is currently under the physical possession of the IAF. We have taken up the matter with the IAF authorities but they are asking for an alternate place to shift its utilities before vacating the identified area,” Sonam Nurboo, Director, Leh airport, told KIF over phone.
The Director said the existing infrastructure at the Leh airport, known as the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, can cater to just 100 incoming and 100 outgoing passengers.
“After the expansion, we will be able to cater to around 600 passengers at a time. Besides, there are presently only two aircraft bays, it will go up to five after the infrastructure is upgraded,” said Nurboo.
Pertinently, Leh airport belongs to the IAF, Ministry of Defence, while the AAI maintains a civil enclave for operations.
In summer, seven flights operate between Delhi and Leh every day, while there are two flights from Jammu (on Monday and Friday) and one from Srinagar (on Wednesday) in a week.
In winters, this number comes down to just three or four flights a day.
Air travel is the only mode of transport to the region during winter and the cost of one-way air ticket from Leh to Delhi goes up to Rs 25,000 per person in the season.
The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, which governs the district politically, has already taken up the matter with the Centre and the Civil Aviation Ministry has been requested to slash the air fare and increase the frequency of flights to Ladakh.
Two vital roads, the 434-km-long Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway and 474-km-long Manali-Leh highway, to Ladakh remain closed for nearly six months during the winter.