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Chennai-Jaffna flights resume today after Covid break

Alliance Air, an Air India subsidiary, has announced that it will operate the service four times a week. The air link, first revived in November 2019 after more than four decades, ran for just four months before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down international borders and travel in March 2020.

Indian Express – India and Sri Lanka are all set to revive an important connectivity link with the resumption of flights between Chennai and Jaffna from Monday.

Alliance Air, an Air India subsidiary, has announced that it will operate the service four times a week. The air link, first revived in November 2019 after more than four decades, ran for just four months before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down international borders and travel in March 2020.

When flights resumed and Sri Lanka’s primary airport at Colombo reopened to international flights, Jaffna International Airport remained shut.

India had pushed for the resumption of this link between Sri Lanka’s Tamil north to Tamil Nadu. But a meeting of minds on the issue became possible only earlier this year, in the wake of the island nation’s economic meltdown during which India reached out with financial and other assistance.

The air link could spur economic activity in the northern province, the main theatre of the long civil war. The area’s recovery has been slow, even though it has been more than a decade since the end of the armed conflict in 2009.

The connectivity is expected to push tourism, including pilgrimage tourism, from southern India to Sri Lanka’s Tamil north, bringing in valuable foreign exchange to the beleaguered Sri Lankan economy. It could also draw investment to Jaffna and other parts of the northern province (comprising the five districts of Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya) and open up business and trade opportunities between the two sides.

Homebound Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora living in other parts of the world may also find a direct short-haul flight from Chennai to Jaffna more convenient and economical than travelling to Colombo and making another six-hour, 400-km journey north by road or train.

The potential loss of business at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport was likely one reason that the Sri Lankan government was reluctant to reopen Jaffna International airport, earlier named Palaly airport after the town where it is located.

During the civil war, the Palaly airfield, developed by the British as an RAF base during World War 2, served as a vital Sri Lankan military airbase for transport of troops and supplies for the entire northern area.

Part of the airport remains with the military. The Sri Lankan government still faces claims for compensation or return of land from its original Tamil owners, who were evicted to make way for the high security zone.

India had proposed the opening of air links between Jaffna and Chennai immediately after the end of the war in 2009, but Sri Lanka was still savouring its victory over the LTTE, and the response was tepid.

It was only 10 years later, in 2019, that Sri Lanka finally consented. The airport was redeveloped and renamed Jaffna International Airport, with India making a financial contribution to the redevelopment.

A proposal to extend the link to other airports in southern India, such as Bengaluru, Trivandrum and Hyderabad, would have to wait until the runway is upgraded from its present 1.4 km to a planned 2.3 km to enable bigger aircraft to land.

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