Dr. S.L. Marbaniang:
In this age of modernity, quality and competition are very high on the agenda of any nation that desires to go forward. Time and distance are factors that are to be seriously taken into consideration. However, the present modes of travel and transportation have greatly reduced the distance. Consequently, mobility is an unavoidable factor in modern planning.
The commissioning of the airport at Umroi, on the outskirts of Shillong, last Saturday June 25 by the Union Minister of Civil Aviation, is indeed a step in the right direction. The airport was a much a discussed topic during these last few years. Just when everything was ready to be commissioned, somehow or the other hurdles cropped up from unknown quarters. Moreover, the land in Meghalaya belongs to the people. Therefore, acquisition of land was a great obstacle. On the other hand, people cherished their agricultural land very much. So, unless and until proper communication from both sides took place on a right approach, it became an issue for quite a number of years.
Fortunately, all these issues were amicably solved and hence the expanded and widened airport became a reality. However, it is hoped and expected that the airport will be made functionable in the days and years to come, unlike on previous occasions where it was running on an adhoc basis. What the public, at large really desire, is that the Umroi Airport should be a pride to the people and the State and, therefore, not to shut down, either temporarily or for longer periods, as it had happened in the past. Meghalaya has experienced frequent ceremonies of laying of foundation stones for people’s ambitious projects or commissioning of certain half-completed or even completed schemes, and afterwards became defunct.
Many people in the State are indulging in various kinds of trade and profession which involved frequent traveling outside. All along they had to avail of either Railways or Airways from Guwahati. Therefore, they had to travel to Guwahati by road which was covered in about 4-5 hours. or even more, depending on the degree of traffic jam along the Guwahati-Shillong Road. As such, they had to face much unavoidable inconveniences. Until the airport becomes fully functional, such predicament will continue to be faced by people. This is not to mention about the trips undertaken by ministers and bureaucrats of the State on and off to Delhi and other capitals of the different States outside the North East Region.
With each passing years, air transportation has become an increasingly important means of travel and communication between countries and continents. The presence of a good number of Central Government establishments and prestigious Centres of Learning like North eastern Hill University (NEHU), Indian Institute of Management (IIM), NEIGRIHMS, etc. is attracting a good number of visiting professors, scholars and academicians from various parts of the world. Road travel from Guwahati to Shillong, a mere distance of about 100 kilometres has been an eyesore.
Air transport for carrying people and goods has an obvious advantage to speed. In earlier decades and centuries, the trip from Europe to India by means of ship took several days. Many people became sea-sick because of the long journey. Therefore, before embarking upon such kind of journey, people had to think many times. If a single coverage took several days, then going to and returning back meant much more. The appearance of wide-bodied jet covered the same distance, one way, in only eight hours or so. Now more and more planes which are much faster have taken over the old types of planes which are considered to be quite outdated.
The Wright brothers, namely, Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948) were very enterprising and the pioneers in air travel. After a number of unsuccessful attempts, they finally triumphed. The day, December 17 of 1903 would go down in history as the most momentous one because on that very date the Wright Brothers proved their vision of air traveling right. Subsequent improvement brought revolutionary changes in the mode of traveling by virtue of which the distance has been reduced much and the time taken greatly curtailed. However, Wilbur Wright died on May 30, 1912 due to typhoid fever. So only Orville Wright who lived till January 30, 1948, could see that their invention was a great benefit to humankind. The journey across the vast Atlantic Ocean which earlier by sea route took several weeks was curtailed to a mere 8-10 hours.
With the new type of travels, so also the question of safety became a great concern of various Governments and agencies. Airports are to be properly chosen so as not to interfere with common people’s daily activities. Aviation experts are involved in the world’s air networks. Therefore, at the airports there are control rooms to help the pilots chart their route and flight so as not to meet with any accident in mid-air, to help them land safely and also to be able to take off at the appropriate time. Planners at the ground are to supervise the loading and unloading of freights and luggages without making any mistake at all. The most important thing with air travel nowadays is with security and for which staff are fully equipped at the airport itself to check and to monitor. Any slight mistake may incur heavy damage because terrorist activities in plane travel has increasing leading to a number of tragedies. However, with strict supervision and surveillance, the hi-jacking of planes has been much minimized.
The world’s air routes are very unevenly distributed over the globe. Some areas are highly congested, others very sparse. Several factors have dictated the present pattern of air routes but the most important single influence has been the economic development of the communities served. The airplanes is primarily a passenger carrier, and depends upon the business potential and the possibilities for tourist and other nonbusiness traffic for its fullest utilization. The densest routes are those that serve the world’s great city regions and even a casual glance at an air traffic map reveals the closely packed route network of the U.S.A and the European Countries.
People in the North Eastern region have been very mobile during these last few years. Not only ministers and bureaucrats, but also business people and students as well have been traveling a lot. The entry of private agencies into the system has facilitated the commuters much. Time-schedule has been strictly followed. Fares are very competitive and services have improved, unlike the earlier era in which monopoly was the practice.
The civil aviation experts, at the initial stage of planning, are keen observers of the other modes of transport. Accordingly, for implementation aspects they usually take into account the existing railways, river-ways and roadways, so that travelers will enjoy the connecting services without having to endure loss of hours unnecessarily. After all, it should not be forgotten that “Time is Money”.
The most essential factor in any type of journey is safety. Doubtless, it cannot be said otherwise when it comes to traveling, either for business or pleasure. Of all modes of travel, it has been statically proved that air travel is t
he safest. Science and technology has vastly improved and so also the experts who look after the latest tools and equipments. Safety and security are the priority number one in air travel. So people ought to dispel any fear or complex on air travel. [Ref.: Encyclopedia of the World and its People, Bay Books Pvt Ltd.]