File photograph: A Sri Lankan military plane at Palaly
Direct flights connecting Chennai and Jaffna will be launched as a new international airport opens in the region, reports The Hindu, with a test flight scheduled from Palaly later this week.
Initially there was concern as flights between the two historically Tamil regions were missed out of the Sri Lankan government plans, but latest reports indicate the service, which existed decades ago, may be restarted.
“The plan appears to have been modified now, with authorities preparing to operate flights from Jaffna to Chennai, Tiruchi and Kochi,” Priyantha Kariyapperuma, Vice-Chairman of Airport and Aviation Services told The Hindu.
“It makes logical sense to begin with south Indian cities, because of the connections our people have there. But we couldn’t finalise the routes until the airline company gave us a confirmation.”
The first flight to Chennai is scheduled for Thursday.
Meera Srinivasan of The Hindu went on to write,
When residents of the north begin flying to Chennai or Tiruchi directly, it will mark the revival of a once-popular air service connecting the neighbours. Way back in the 1960s and even in the mid-1970s, northern Tamils took 45-minute flights to land in ‘Madras’ or Tiruchi. Some passengers even recall travelling in an Air Ceylon Dakota aircraft, as they flew across the Palk Strait for a quick temple visit or shopping trip.
The service stopped somewhere along the way, further complicated by the civil war that cut the north and east from the rest of the island, and the world. The only Indian flight that many Sri Lankans remember with reference to the north is that of the Indian Air Force that dropped food supplies in Jaffna in 1987 — a symbolic gesture that outraged many in the south of the island, who saw it as blatantly violating their country’s sovereignty.
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Palaly airport is currently occupied by the Sri Lankan military which has used the region as an air force base for its fleets of jets that were extensively used in bombing raids throughout the armed conflict. Though the military will allow the reopening of the airport for commercial flights, the area remains under a High Security Zone occupied by the military.