Tourism is set to boom this winter in the Taj city, with the union defence and civil aviation ministries green-signalling the landing of direct international flights at the local Kheria airport, an important base of the Indian Air Force.
For decades, the tourism bodies of Agra had been alleging that the strong Delhi lobbies of hoteliers and travel agents were sabotaging moves for upgradation of the Agra airport and obstructing landing of international flights.
perfect match: Shaikh Salimbhai poses with his replica of the Taj Mahal made from matchsticks in Ahmedabad yesterday. Salimbhai made it from 75,000 matchsticks and it took him 1 year and 19 days. pic/afp
But for the past one year, under pressure from local tourism bodies, Congress politicians, local MPs and MLAs and citizens' groups - "there were a series of interactions, delegations calling on central ministers, and media support" -- there has been a change in perception and a whole lot of "imaginary fears" were removed, say tourism industry leaders of the Taj city.
The last round of meeting with senior defence ministry officials, three days ago, ironed out the remaining differences, particularly one relating to the repair and maintenance of one runway that needs to be used for bigger planes this winter, tourism sources said.
Rajiv Tiwari, a senior industry leader said, "The defence minister and the secretary-level officials have taken a positive view and now allowed the use of the runway for scheduled chartered flights. We have submitted several alternative proposals for creating amenities and the construction of a safe corridor to the air strip which is used by the air force." Surprisingly even with all the restrictions and talk of lack of air connectivity in Agra, Kheria airport, according to airport director Kuldip Singh, received a record 800-plus charters last year.
Even the civil aviation ministry, on its part, maintains that the permission was granted in principle due to the presence of technical and industrial prerequisites required for international operations.