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Air travel not elitist any more: Sonia

Special Correspondent

HYDERABAD: United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi formally declared open the futuristic Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad near here on Friday. It promises to take the country’s airport infrastructure to a new growth trajectory but the Civil Aviation Ministry deferred operationalising it “by a few days.”

Less than an hour after Ms. Gandhi inaugurated the greenfield airport, the Ministry released a statement in New Delhi that “due to operational issues, the opening of the new Hyderabad airport is being delayed by a few days. The new date will be notified soon.” No reason was assigned for the delay.

A Lufthansa Airbus 340-300 carrying 247 passengers from Frankfurt was scheduled to touch down at 0025 hours on Sunday to mark the formal launching of operations.

The UPA chairperson, in her address, said there was no conflict between the rail network and air connectivity. Air connectivity played a vital role in stimulating development of backward regions. She said the Shamshabad airport generated new areas of growth. The first semiconductor complex had come up nearby with a promised investment of $ 7 billion. Facility for manufacture of solar cells had also been created.

She said air travel was not elitist any more. With the entry of private airlines, fares had dropped and it had become easy for common people to travel by air.

Describing the airport as “truly world-class and magnificent,” she said the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, would have been happy to see what was achieved here. It was in Hyderabad that he had undergone advanced pilot training.

Ms. Gandhi said innovative ways had to be devised for economic development. These would include organising women self-help groups, realising the export potential of embroidery work from Narsapur in West Godavari and organic coffee cultivated by tribal communities.

Minister of State for Civil Aviation Praful Patel, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and Union Ministers S. Jaipal Reddy and T. Subbarami Reddy were present at the inauguration.

Meanwhile, a bandh was called by the BJP in support of a separate Telangana and protests were held by the Telugu Desam Party demanding that the new airport be named after its founder NTR.

The Rs. 2,300-crore airport built in the public-private partnership mode has come up on a 5,400-acre land at Shamshabad, about 25 km from here, off the Hyderabad-Bangalore highway.

Operations soon: GMR

The main promoter, GMR, in a release, said the international airport was ready in all aspects but some airlines had approached the Ministry seeking more time to begin operations from Shamshabad. “Acceding to their requests, MoCA has advised us to begin operation in a few days. We will intimate the new date and commence operations soon,” it added.

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