Connected Like Never Before: How Four Airports In Arunachal Are A ‘Real Bharat Jodo’

The ‘land of rising sun’, Arunachal Pradesh will soon be witnessing the inauguration of Tezu Airport.

The Tezu airport in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh has been re-developed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) — UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) at a cost of Rs 170 crore. This airport will connect the beautiful Tezu town with the rest of the country.

The development and modernisation work at the airport includes the construction of a New Terminal Building having an area of 4,000 sq m, a Fire Station-cum-ATC Tower and the extension of runway. The new Terminal Building will be capable to handle 300 passengers during peak hours.

Presently, the state has four airports at Pasighat in East Siang district, Tezu in Lohit district, Ziro in Lower Subansiri district and Donyi Polo airport in Hollongi, close to the state capital of Itanagar.

Pasighat Airport

Popularly known as the ‘Land of the Dawn-lit-Mountains’, Arunachal Pradesh is India’s remotest state and the first Indian soil to greet the rising sun.

However, despite attaining statehood 36 years ago in 1987, the quest for a civilian airport remained a distant dream for the state until 2018 when Arunachal Pradesh became the last of the eight north-eastern States to get on India’s commercial flight service map.

Map of Arunachal Pradesh

The history was created when the first commercial flight of the Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, landed at the Pasighat airport in Arunachal Pradesh on 21 May 2018.

Pasighat, about 570 km northeast of Guwahati, is the headquarters of East Siang district and the State’s oldest city. Earlier, in order to reach Pasighat, people had to travel from Guwahati or Itanagar for almost a day in the hilly terrain.

The Pasighat airport was one of six operational advance landing grounds (ALGs) in Arunachal Pradesh and was mostly used by the Armed forces.

It was virtually abandoned after the China-India war in 1962 until the Indian Air Force took it over in 2010.

The airport was inaugurated in August 2016 with the landing of a Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet. A civilian terminal was built in 2017 and a test landing of Alliance Air’s commercial flight was carried out in April 2018.

The airport has also a strategic significance as it is just 300 kms away from the Indo-China border.

Tezu Airport

Tezu in the eastern Arunachal, is the headquarters of Lohit district. It is the nearest town to Walong, where a legendary battle between Indian and Chinese soldiers took place between 16 October to 16 November 1962.

The city entered onto the aviation map of the country in August 2021, when the first commercial flight of Flybig Airlines flew to Assam’s capital Guwahati. The new airport has made everything much more accessible and connected, especially in the eastern side of the state.

The commercial airport in Tezu has also firmed up India’s strategic space by smoothening transport to several high-altitude districts near the India-China border.

Donyi Polo Airport

Arunachal’s first full-fledged airport at Hollongi, 15 km from Itanagar, the state capital was inaugurated on 19 November 2022 and has been operational since 28 November 2022.

The state government has named the airport as “Donyi Polo Airport” to reflect the long-standing indigenous respect for the Sun (Donyi) and the Moon (Polo) among the populace.

The airport, also the first greenfield airport in Arunachal Pradesh, has been developed in an area of more than 690 acres at a cost of more than Rs 640 crore.

The new airport has connected the capital city with an airport – earlier no airport existed in vicinity of Itanagar, the closest one being Lilabari Airport in Assam’s North Lakhimpur district which was at a distance of 80 km and takes around three hours to reach by road.

Also, the new airport is suitable for landing of larger aircrafts — bigger commercial flights wouldn’t land at Pasighat and Tezu. With a runway of 2300 metres, the airport is suitable for the operations of Airbus-320 (A-320) category of aircraft, thereby providing direct flights to metro cities as well as international destinations.

To put this in perspective, the new airport will be great for tourism in the central belt of the state, hitherto limited to the western and eastern belt.

Connecting NorthEast

The northeast has been an important component of air connectivity expansion.

in 2013, there only nine airports in the northeast, which has now increased to 17. This means close to about eight new airports have been built in the last ten years, including all the four airports in Arunachal.

This dramatic increase in the aerial connectivity of the northeast with the rest of the country, is what was termed as “real Bharat Jodo” by Minister of Civil Aviation (MoCA) Jyotiraditya Scindia on the sidelines of the inauguration of air connectivity from Hollongi airport on 20 November.

What lies ahead

The emergence of multiple airports in Arunachal is a testimony to how focus on the region has aided its connectivity, creating shared prosperity.

The string of airports is expected to be a game-changer for the landlocked state, which shares a border with China to the north and northeast, Myanmar to the east, and Bhutan to the west.

The improvements in connectivity is significant in view of the statements by Beijing’s officials asserting China’s territorial claims over Arunachal Pradesh.

“The disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction,” said Dai Bingguo, former Special Representative of China to the border talks with India.

Howeevr, the continuing focus on aviation infrastructure development will not only provide the necessary support for the strategic preparedness for the forces in the mountains, but will also augur well for aspiration of local community .

Hopes of improved connectivity, tourism and economic growth are riding on them.