Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chandigarh gears up for influx of VVIPs, fans

CHANDIGARH, March 30, 2011

The quiet airport of Chandigarh will soon welcome an array of politicians, leaders, movie stars, industrialists and of course cricket fans causing air traffic jam, with 50 chartered flights expected to land here on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning ahead of the high-voltage cricket World Cup India-Pakistan semi-final match at Mohali.

The number of VVIPs coming to witness the match is a reminder of the importance the sport holds in India, but the lack of infrastructure in the city is a cause for concern. Officials are expecting 60 flights to land in Chandigarh from all parts of the country on Wednesday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., in addition to the 14 scheduled flights.

"The airport director will give permission for take-offs during late hours. We have no problem with it and we can operate till late night," an Air Traffic Control (ATC) official said. The ATC will be managed by the Indian Air Force, which controls the airport.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, a number of Central Ministers, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, Bollywood stars and celebrities are expected here for the big match.

Authorities expect at least two planes in Mr. Gilani\'s entourage, as an advance party always arrives before the foreign heads of state. Also, no aircraft movement will be allowed for about half-an-hour before the two Prime Ministers land.

Plane-pooling is clearly not on the list of leaders, industrialists, Bollywood celebrities and politicians — from the Ambani family to actor Aamir Khan and the former aviation Minister, Praful Patel, they all will come in their private planes. Many planes will make trips to Amritsar, Dehradun and Delhi to pick other VIPs and will later be parked at Chandigarh\'s spacious defence area, used by the IAF as a transport base.

Airlines operating direct flights on the Mumbai-Chandigarh route are busy trying to add more flights to Wednesday\'s schedules to cash in on the demand for seats. GoAir (8.45 a.m.), Jet Airways (9.40 a.m.) and Kingfisher (1 p.m.) are offering direct flights to Chandigarh. GoAir has begun accepting bookings for two extra flights, departing at 2 a.m. and 6.30 a.m., while Jet has asked for permission to operate an extra flight on the day of the match. One chartered company, Airnetz, has booked two six-seaters from Mumbai for around Rs. 7 lakh each and a nine-seater for Rs. 14 lakh.

Lack of parking space at the airport is a major cause for concern.

The technical airport area, which is under the command and control of the IAF, has enough parking space, but authorities are not willing to share it because of the arrival of the two Prime Ministers.

Traffic restrictions

Vehicular traffic restrictions have also been put in place in Chandigarh. The police on Tuesday issued an advisory to the public on the routes to be avoided. "

We have advised the public to avoid various roads, like the one connecting the airport with Tribune roundabout, PCA (Punjab Cricket Association) Stadium and Hotel Taj. These roads will be kept free as many VIPs will be using them from 8 a.m. to 11p.m. on Wednesday," a Chandigarh police official said.

Spectators are expected to start arriving at the stadium by 6 a.m. though the match will start only at 2.30 p.m.

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