An Alliance Air flight from this metropolis was given the traditional water salute as it touched down the brand-new Jaffna International Airport in Sri Lanka, to celebrate the landing of the first international flight. The Alliance Air flight had Air India Chairman-and-Managing Director Ashwani Lohani and top officials of the state-owned airline and journalists on board.
With the landing of the flight owned by Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, in Jaffna from Chennai, the old air link between the two cities that are geographically, culturally and historically close to each other have been restored.
Commercial operations of the Chennai-Jaffna flight would commence on November 1 and the fare will be Rs 3,900 inclusive of all taxes. Planned to run three days a week initially, the Chennai-Jaffna flight would be converted into a daily service very soon.
As the flight landed at the Jaffna International Airport, which has been upgraded from being a strategic airbase with help from India, the ATR 72-600 was accorded ceremonial welcome with a water salute. Immediately after the flight landed, the airport was inaugurated by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who thanked India for extending help in rebuilding the airport.
“The Jaffna International Airport is a symbol of what can be achieved through collaboration between the two countries. We thank Indian Government for the help extended,” Wickremesinghe said in his speech.
The resumption of air link between Chennai and Jaffna is a major leap in the efforts by India and Sri Lanka to boost people-to-people contact between the close neighbours. The daily flight is expected to enhance trade and business in Jaffna peninsula, which is slowly getting back to its feet after a bloody civil war that lasted for three decades.
Lohani told select group of journalists on Wednesday night that Alliance Air is mulling launching flights from Madurai and Tiruchirappalli to Jaffna in the coming months as the service would help Tamils in India and Sri Lanka to reach the northern province.
“We are very proud that Alliance Air is the first flight to land at the Jaffna Airport and the first international carrier to fly out of Jaffna. We will strive to connect more cities from Tamil Nadu with Jaffna and Trincomalee in Sri Lanka,” Lohani said.
Known as Palaly air base, now known as Jaffna International Airport, was used by the Sri Lankan Army to mount offensive against the now defunct LTTE and airdrop supplies to its forces during the civil war. The airbase was also used extensively by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) for transportation of its men to and from Jaffna.
Before the war, the airport had flights to and from Chennai, Tiruchirappalli and Colombo. After the end of the war, domestic flights from Jaffna to Colombo began in 2012 and efforts to convert the domestic airport into international fructified only now. The airport runway has now been extended from 950 metres to 1,400 metres and would further be extended up to 2,300 metres.