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Agartala Airport will soon become Northeast India's third international airport

During World War II, Agartala Airport served as a technical base for the Royal Air Force

Agartala Airport will soon become Northeast Indias third international airport

After Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International (LGBI) in Guwahati and Bir Tikendrajit International Airport in Imphal, the Civil Aviation Ministry will soon recognise Agartala airport as Northeast India's third international airport (Manipur).

According to officials at the Airports Authority of India (AAI), Agartala airport, located 20 kilometres north of the capital city of Tripura, is the second busiest airport in northeastern India, after LGBI Airport in Guwahati, in terms of aircraft and passenger handling.

The Agartala airport, was opened in 1942 after land was provided by then-Tripura king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur, served as a technical base for the Royal Air Force during World War II. "It would likely be declared an international airport soon to boost air connectivity with the neighbouring countries," said officials of AAI and the Tripura Transport Department.

In July 2018, the airport in Agartala, formerly known as Singerbhil Airport, was renamed after Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur. It is heavily utilised by Bangladeshis, for whom Agartala is frequently the first stop on their trip to a location in India or beyond because the airport is far closer to their homes than the airports in their own country.

Tripura Transport and Tourism Minister Pranajit Singha Roy said the state government has been urging the central government to start operating flights from the Maharaja Bir Bikram (MBB) airport to neighbouring countries because the airport has already been developed with all international facilities and standards. On January 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated MBB Airport's new integrated terminal building, which cost Rs 500 crore and was built at a cost of Rs 500 crore.

"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," said Roy.

He claimed that the Tripura administration has requested to the Central government on several occasions that flights be operated from Agartala to Dhaka, Chittagong, and other Bangladeshi cities since it would be a highly economically viable route.

Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has already discussed operating flights between Agartala and cities in Bangladesh with the Prime Minister and Civil Aviation Minister, as well as Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, according to Roy, who also holds the Agriculture portfolio.

"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, which is similarly near the international border and close to Bangladesh's resource-rich Sylhet area, has been closed since June 1992. The land for the Agartala, Kailashahar, and numerous other (now abandoned) airports in Tripura was granted by the then Tripura rulers, according to historian and writer Pannalal Roy.

"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," said Roy. He went on to say that Japanese fighter jets bombed Agartala airport twice in 1943.

On October 15, 1949, after a merger agreement was signed between regent Maharani Kanchan Prabha Devi and the Indian Governor General, the erstwhile princely state of Tripura came under the administration of the Indian government, according to historian Salil Debbarma.

According to AAI spokesman S. Haokip Jempu, the Agartala airport served as a technical facility for the Royal Air Force during World War II, when Allied Forces fought Japanese soldiers in the Arakan Ranges of 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.

According to Jempu, the new integrated terminal building with cutting-edge infrastructure will be able to handle three million passengers each 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.

International flights were flown from Guwahati's LGBI airport to Bangkok, Singapore, Paro (Bhutan), and Dhaka, according to AAI authorities (Bangladesh). All foreign flights have been halted due of the Covid-19 epidemic.

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