Flying new distances: Air Odisha
For a better part of its modern history, Rourkela has been much more defined by what it lacks than by what it has to offer. The majestic steel plant and the National Institute of Technology have both been overshadowed by the remote location of the city, consequently impacting the volume of the city’s opportunities for growth. One of the long standing issues has been the absence of air connectivity to the city from any of the major metropolitans. Till recently, the fastest mode of travel that linked the city to Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, was by road that took an approximate of 6 hours and 30 minutes, which seemed excruciatingly high for a place like Rourkela. Despite having many resources and opportunities at hand, it seems Rourkela wasn’t growing as required and one of the major reasons for this came to be, the lack of air connectivity.
The airstrip was constructed by Tata Iron and Steel Company in the 1950s and small planes used to fly between Rourkela and Jamshedpur. In 1961, the airport was taken over by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and Vayudoot started daily flights but the company faced huge losses in 1980s and it stopped operating. Then SAIL (Steel Authority of India Limited) took over the airstrip.
Since then, the RSP and RCCI has been keen on starting flight operations and various companies have tried to start a venture here. From 2007-2008, Sky Airways operated chartered flights from Bhubaneswar via Barbil, for a few days only. Then in 2013, Air Odisha planned on operating daily flights between Rourkela, Jharsuguda, Bhubaneswar and Kolkata but the plans kept on getting delayed.
Sources said that poor coordination between the Centre and State government is the reason for the airstrip failing to become certified as an airport. Moreover the AAI finds it difficult to upgrade the airstrip’s infrastructure since they don’t get the required cooperation from the state government. However, the ruling BJD said the state has no role to play in this matter as the onus is on the Union Steel Ministry. Such accusations continued flying over the Central and State government but the airport remained eluded of its tag.
With Air Odisha having begun flights from Bhubaneswar to Sambalpur in January, 2016 the officials said that this service would begin in Rourkela very soon. Air Odisha promoter S.N. Pani said flights to Rourkela would take some time because of the lack of manpower at the air traffic control in Rourkela.
What is at stake for NITR?
NIT Rourkela has constantly featured among the top 5 NITs in the country, along with NITs at Tiruchirappalli and Warangal. The city of Tiruchirappalli houses an international airport located at a distance of about 25 km by road from the NIT. On a similar note, NIT Warangal is a mere two and half hours by road from the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Hyderabad. Compared to the two NITs, NITR is rather poorly connected with 6 hours and 30 minutes of road travel between the city and the nearest international airport at Bhubaneswar.
The inconvenient accessibility to the city has reflected itself in the various fronts of the institute, like placements and participation in conferences and workshops organized by the institute. With the introduction of chartered flight services by Air Odisha, NITR can expect a boost in each of these areas.
The recent efforts of the institute have been particularly focused on developing a better interface for industry relations, with the aim of promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. Needless to mention, the better connectivity to the city would go a long way in reinforcing those efforts. The increased comfort of travel and the reduced travel time would lead to more frequent interactions between the institute and industry representatives, thereby speeding up the process of achieving the purpose behind it all.
The placement scenario of NITR would improve, considering the fact that bigger companies will now have an easier medium to reach the institute. Many MNC recruiters expect certain amenities while recruiting from an institute as reputed as NITR. Hence, the influx of companies from abroad as well as from metropolitan cities will be far greater than the status quo.
Alumni interactions will improve gradually. As the town remains a bit disconnected from the larger metropolitans, it will now have an opportunity to connect with them. Hence, the alumni residing in such cities will have an onus to visit their alma mater rather comfortably.
The participation in events, including professional conferences, leadership meets, seminars etc. organized in the campus might improve. Fests and conferences can be expected to be of greater magnitude as the flight services start improving. International guests will be willing to conduct workshops and seminars more readily due to improved connectivity of Rourkela to other cities.
NIT Rourkela Outreach Centre in Bhubaneswar is being constructed. The main motive of this Centre is to facilitate faculty development by contact as well as long distance programmes. The students from there can interact with the faculty of NITR through smart classrooms. With the inception of the airport at Rourkela, these students taking up courses at the Outreach Centre can visit NITR campus at Rourkela to improve their subject knowledge by meeting the faculty here. Placement procedures are also being implemented there. Students can hence move between Rourkela and Bhubaneswar within a few hours for multiple reasons.
TIIR Scenario at NITR will face exponential growth. TIIR, which stands for Technology, Innovation and Industry Relations Centre, essentially makes sure that the entrepreneurship culture multiplies in leaps and bounds. The inclusion of an airport in the city would mean better access to other cities.
The IIM in Odisha will be established at Sambalpur. There are no current flights between Rourkela and Sambalpur, but there is a future possibility as the sources from Air Odisha suggest. This upgrade would lead to better student industry interactions and boost entrepreneurship.
Not to forget, the students will now have an easier and faster method to travel back and forth between home and the institute.
The only drawback is these flights that are planned to relay between these cities of Odisha has a capacity of nine passengers per flight. A hefty sum of almost INR 2500 is expected to be charged for each trip, proving it to be quite an expensive affair.
Weighing the multiple benefits due to the Air Odisha service, the disadvantages almost fade out. It is imperative that a city like Rourkela needs air connectivity.
Team MM hopes for the dawn of a new era in the above mentioned scenarios, thereby opening NITR in all its glory to the outer world and vice versa.