Kolkata: Some of them may have watched it on television but for most, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness live takeoffs and landings of Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi Su-30MKI air superiority fighter aircraft while they waited for their flights at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata on Wednesday and Thursday. 

As part of a unique exercise, IAF’s Eastern Air Command carried out fighter operations from civilian airports under its area of responsibility for two days. “This was done to prepare for any eventuality. While Su-30 MKIs used the Kolkata and Guwahati airports, Hawks operated from Andal. The aim was to validate the fighter operations procedure, familiarise the crew and pilots about the airports and co-ordinate with civil agencies for such operations. On both days, day and night operations were carried out. By conducting such operations, IAF expands its options during emergencies when more space may be required,” a senior IAF official said.

The Kolkata and Guwahati airports were used extensively during the 1971 Indo-Pak War when a large number of IAF aircraft operated in the eastern sector. The airport at Andal was not operational then. IAF has five air bases at Hasim-ara, Bagdogra, Kalaikunda, Panagarh and Barrackpore. Of these, Barrackpore operates helicopters. A major concern for any air force is finding alternatives if any of its bases is destroyed (or its runway damaged) in war. IAF has also practised landing frontline fighter and transport aircraft on highways. 

Air Marshal Sandeep Singh, SASO, EAC, expressed satisfaction and conveyed that the exercise had achieved all its aims. “Such training gives us the flexibility to shift operating base if the need arises,” he said, emphasising operating from Kolkata as it is vital for maritime operations in the Bay of Bengal region.