If tourists wanted to visit the north-eastern state of Sikkim, normally they would land at West Bengal’s Bagdogra airport and then travel the rest of the 124 km by bus or car to reach Sikkim’s capital city of Gangtok. But, that’s set to change with Pakyong airport opening for business today.
The first flight to Sikkim’s first airport took off today morning from Kolkata to land in Pakyong, which is only 33 km from Gangtok. Also known for its inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ‘India’s 100th airport’, the site is located 4,500 feet above sea level.
In the works since 2009, with the Pakyong airport launching, every single state in India now has an airport within its borders.
Though that may not be too impressive in comparison to some of the highest airports in the world that reach heights of nearly 15,000 feet above sea level, like Daocheng Yading Airport, it’s still an engineering accomplishment located amidst the Himalayas.
Construction at 4,500 feet
Rather than romantic weather and hazy clouds, the reality for engineers includes facing the harsh climatic conditions at that height including the Indian monsoon. The Pakyong airport has been constructed by carving into the mountain face and building one of the world’s reinforced soil walls.
The key was ensuring that the site was stable to house a 1,700-meter runway that’s 3 meters wide. The entire area covers 990 acres of land, with a 3,000 square meter terminal building that can handle 100 passengers at a time.
Even getting the requisite materials up to the site was an issue due to the narrow mountain roads. Security, though not a direct concern, was definitely on the mind with the airport being only 60 km from the India-China border.
It took 11 years of planning, construction and delays to finally bring the Pakyong airport into being costing the government upward of ₹6 billion. With travelling to Sikkim being more accessible now, the project is expected to spell growth for the state’s tourism industry.