Chennai-Jaffna air link to resume this week

Air India’s subsidiary set to launch daily direct flights between the two cities.

After several decades, this southern metropolis will on Thursday get re-connected by air with Jaffna, the capital city of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated northern province, with Air India’s subsidiary set to launch daily direct flights between the two cities.

The resumption of an 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 to be operated by Alliance Air, a subsidiary of the national carrier, 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.

Jaffna and Chennai are geographically, historically and culturally close to each other and a direct flight would help Sri Lankan diaspora in India avoid Colombo to reach the North as it consumes more time. Currently, they fly have to fly to Colombo and take another flight or travel by road or rail to reach the far-away northern province. The flying time between Chennai and Jaffna will be less than an hour.

Air Ceylon, the erstwhile national carrier of Sri Lanka, had operated flights from Jaffna to Chennai and Tiruchirappalli till the 1970s. In fact, Air Ceylon’s first international flight was from Colombo to Chennai with a stopover in Jaffna.

Sources in Air India told DH that the first direct flight would take off from Chennai on Thursday at the Jaffna Airport, which will be rechristened as an international airport by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Air India Chairman & Managing Director Ashwani Lohani and other senior officials are expected to travel in the first flight from Chennai, the sources added.

Once the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) turned into a full-fledged war, the Jaffna airport, which was constructed during World War II, was converted into a strategic airbase that helped the Sri Lankan Army mount offensive against the now-defunct LTTE and airdrop supplies to its forces. The airbase was also used extensively by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) for transportation of its men to and from Jaffna.

“The old air link between Chennai and Jaffna is now being re-established and it is such good news. We really welcome such initiatives that would expand the ties between India and Sri Lanka. The resumption of old air link would certainly boost people-to-people contact between the two countries,” V Krishnamoorthy, Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner to India, told DH.

An airbase till 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. 

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