Alliance Air’s flight from Chennai landed in Jaffna, Sri Lanka on Thursday morning marking a new beginning in the connectivity between the two countries. The water salute to the ATR aircraft was not just an honorary gesture. It also marked the resuming of flight services between Tamil Nadu and Jaffna after around 50 years.
The services between the south Indian state and Jaffna’s Palaly airport were suspended in the late 1970s just before the civil war broke out in the island nation. The airport was used as a strategic military base by the Sri Lankan armed forces to derive advantage over the now-defunct LTTE and to airdrop supplies to its own forces during the war.
Civilian flights resumed in Palaly airport from 2002. However, these services were domestic. On Thursday, the airport, renamed as Jaffna International Airport was thrown open to cater to international flights, with its first flight landing from Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
The inaugural flight which landed at #Jaffna International Airport is the first International flight for Alliance Air, Air India’s sister-carrier. CMD, Air India, Mr. Ashwani Lohani & CEO, Alliance Air, Mr. C.S. Subbiah travelled on board the Inaugural Flight. @airindiain #India pic.twitter.com/0uPFMCGBxP— India in Sri Lanka (@IndiainSL) October 17, 2019
V Krishnamoorthy, the Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India, tells TNM that it is a welcome move to restore air traffic between the southern state and Jaffna, which has a substantial share of Tamil population.
“This will foster better connectivity between the people of Jaffna and the people in Tamil Nadu. It was there 40-50 years ago and now we have resumed it, it is a good move,” he says. Adding that Jaffna International Airport will be the third international airport in Sri Lanka, Krishnamoorthy says that this is a part of the country’s development programme.
For Thulasi Muttulingam, a 38-year-old freelance journalist living in Jaffna, the re-inauguration of services between Tamil Nadu and Jaffna is ‘useful’. “Most of the traffic from Jaffna is to south India and hence this will help those people. Till date, people from Jaffna need to travel for around eight hours to Colombo, and stay there at an overpriced hotel or at some relatives’ place and then take a flight from there to Tamil Nadu,” she explains.
Too early to assess impact
However, RK Radhakrishnan, the Associate Editor of Frontline and a journalist who has covered Sri Lanka for over two decades points out that it might be too soon to gauge the impact of this gesture. “It is good to have this flight because it has been resumed after 50 years. But that alone does not guarantee that it will be effective. Most of the traffic to Sri Lanka is tourism traffic out of Colombo. It is not as if all the tourism operators are going to shift out of Colombo to start working out of Jaffna,” he says.
To buttress his point, he narrates the example of how Air India, which operates a bigger aircraft to Colombo chose to operate a smaller ATR aircraft to Jaffna. Air Alliance is a subsidiary of Air India. He says that the initiative to reinstate this service came from India since it would be difficult to pursue if Gotabaya Rajapaksa comes to power in Sri Lanka in the next elections.
Adding that it would take a longer time to revive the relationship between the two countries lost due to war, Radhakrishnan says, “From a strategic point of view, I don't know what strategic benefit it will bring, but India thinks it is a victory and for that reason we can celebrate.”