Airports in Uttarakhand – Your Gateway to the Hills

Kusum Tewari
Kusum Tewari 16 Min Read

Uttarakhand, nestled in the Himalayan foothills, is endowed with unmatched natural beauty and spirituality. This northern state of India is home to several pilgrimage sites like the Char Dham, along with popular hill stations like Nainital and Mussoorie that attract travelers from across the globe. However, reaching these remote mountainous regions has always been a challenge. This is where Uttarakhand’s airports have played a crucial role in enhancing accessibility and connectivity.

Over the years, airports in Uttarakhand have enabled tourists to explore the farthest corners of the state with relative ease. They have also given a fillip to the local economy and opened opportunities for trade and development. While Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun remains the busiest, other airports like Pantnagar and Pithoragarh are also vital in improving regional connectivity.

This article provides a comprehensive look at the major airports in Uttarakhand, their facilities, importance to tourism, and future expansion plans. Read on to learn how these gateways in the sky can make your journey to Devbhumi smooth and memorable.

An Overview of Airports in Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand currently has 3 operational commercial airports – Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, Pantnagar Airport in Pantnagar, and Naini Saini Airport in Pithoragarh. There are also a few smaller airstrips like Chinyalisaur and Gauchar that have limited operations.

Uttarakhand Airirport Name: 1.Jolly Grant Dehradun, 2.Pantnagar Airport, 3. Naini Saini Airport 

Jolly Grant Airport is the busiest airport in the state, serving major cities like Dehradun, Rishikesh, Haridwar, and Mussoorie. This airport has witnessed massive upgrades in infrastructure and capacity over the years.

Pantnagar Airport primarily caters to the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, providing connectivity to popular tourist spots like Nainital, Ranikhet, Almora, and Jim Corbett National Park.

The recently upgraded Naini Saini Airport in Pithoragarh has also emerged as an important gateway to the remote Kumaon hills.

Besides commercial airports, Uttarakhand also has several small airstrips that are used for charter operations, rescue work, and military purposes. While commercial flights remain limited currently, these airstrips have strategic importance given the state’s challenging mountainous terrain.

Historical Significance

Aviation infrastructure has a long history in Uttarakhand. Some Airports in Uttarakhand date back to the 1980 era and were built initially for administrative purposes.

Many airstrips like Chinyalisaur, Gauchar and Naini Saini also served as emergency landing sites for several years before starting commercial flights recently. These airports continue to have strategic relevance for remote area connectivity.

With Uttarakhand emerging as an important tourist destination, the government has recognized the need for expanding aviation infrastructure to put more destinations on the aviation map.

Geographical Significance

Uttarakhand’s geographical location amid high Himalayan peaks poses unique challenges for building large airports. The mountainous terrain limits the scope for long runways required by big commercial jets.

However, the state makes up for this limitation by having several small yet strategically located airports and airstrips. These allow accessibility even to remote valleys using smaller aircraft.

Many airports are also located enroute to major religious sites like Badrinath and Kedarnath, enabling pilgrims to reach conveniently. For instance, Jolly Grant Airport provides easy access to Rishikesh while Pantnagar connects to Nainital.

The presence of multiple airports also provides flexibility in case of weather disruptions like fog or monsoon rains that frequently affect flight operations in the hills.

Jolly Grant Airport – The Main Gateway to Uttarakhand

Jolly Grant Airport, (IATA: DED, ICAO: VIDN) also known as Dehradun Airport, is the busiest and most important airport in the state. Located about 25 km from Dehradun city, it serves as the primary gateway to the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.

This full-fledged commercial airport has regular flights connecting Dehradun to metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata among others. It also operates limited flights to regional destinations like Pithoragarh within Uttarakhand.

Uttarakhand Global Investors Summit

State-of-the-Art Facilities

Jolly Grant Airport has witnessed massive upgrades in recent years to transform it into a world-class facility. Key highlights include:

  • Opening of an integrated terminal building in 2021 with all modern amenities.
  • Installation of technologically advanced airport operations systems for safety and efficiency.
  • Creation of improved runway capacities to allow wide-bodied aircraft.
  • Expansion of cargo warehouse facilities.
  • Addition of retail spaces, F&B outlets and lounges for an enhanced passenger experience.
  • Setting up of solar power units for sustainable airport operations.

As of 2022, Jolly Grant Airport has the capacity to handle over 3 million passengers annually, cementing its position as Uttarakhand’s busiest airport.

Connecting Key Tourist Destinations

A major reason for Jolly Grant Airport’s significance is its proximity to several prominent tourist destinations in the Garhwal region, including:

  • Rishikesh – The yoga and adventure sports capital, located at just 21 km from the airport.
  • Haridwar – The holy city on the banks of River Ganga, only 41 km away.
  • Mussoorie – The scenic hill station in the Shivalik Range, about 80 km from the airport.
  • Neelkanth Mahadev Temple – A revered Shiva temple located 43 km from the airport.

Thanks to this connectivity, Jolly Grant Airport witnesses heavy passenger movement during the tourist season and Char Dham Yatra months. It serves as the preferred gateway for travelers heading to Rishikesh-Haridwar or Mussoorie-Dhanaulti.

Many hotels and tour agencies offer hassle-free airport transfer services to key destinations near Dehradun. Taxis, buses and rental cars are easily available as well. The proposed Rishikesh-Karnprayag rail link will further bolster connectivity once completed.

Jolly Grant Airport also expands access to other major towns like Dehradun, Tehri and Pauri which serve as bases for exploring further destinations like Valley of Flowers, Chopta, Auli, Chakrata among others.

With its capabilities and connectivity, Jolly Grant Airport continues to remain the lifeline of tourism for the Garhwal region and entire state.

Pantnagar Airport – Gateway to Kumaon Hills

Pantnagar Airport (IATAPGH, ICAO: VIPT) primarily serves the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Located in the town of Pantnagar in Udham Singh Nagar district, it provides connectivity to popular destinations like Nainital, Almora, Ranikhet and Jim Corbett National Park.

Though smaller than Jolly Grant Airport, Pantnagar pant nagar airport plays a crucial role in enabling air access to the remote hill areas of Kumaon which have limited ground transportation. It mainly caters to tourists headed to the Lake District and wildlife enthusiasts visiting the famous Corbett Tiger Reserve.

Linking Key Destinations

Some major tourist spots connected to Pantnagar Airport are:

  • Nainital – The picturesque lake town is only 65 km away from the airport.
  • Ranikhet – The scenic cantonment hill station located about 95 km from Pantnagar.
  • Almora – The cultural town in the Kumaon hills, nearly 120 km away.
  • Jim Corbett National Park – India’s oldest national park located just 50 km from the airport.

Pantnagar Airport allows travelers to conveniently access these destinations which are significantly far from other major airports. Charter companies also operate helicopter shuttle services from Pantnagar to popular nearby tourist spots.

With many hotels and resorts offering airport pick-up services, Pantnagar Airport has emerged as the preferred starting point for touring Kumaon region.

Future Expansion Plans

To further boost its capabilities, Pantnagar Airport is slated for major expansion under the UDAN regional connectivity scheme, with aims to ultimately transform it into Uttarakhand’s first international airport. Key expansion plans include:

  • Upgrading the runway and terminal building to handle wide-bodied aircraft.
  • Improving night navigation facilities.
  • Expanding apron area to park more aircraft.
  • Enhancing cargo handling capabilities.
  • Setting up customs and immigration facilities.
  • Attracting more airlines to start international flights.

Once expanded, Pantnagar Airport could offer direct long-haul flights to destinations in Southeast Asia and Middle East. This would significantly bolster international tourist arrivals and give a fillip to exports. Pantnagar’s location near state borders is ideal for an international airport catering to both Uttarakhand and neighboring UP and Nepal.

With its strategic location and growth prospects, Pantnagar Airport is primed to become a full-fledged international gateway connecting the Kumaon hills to the world.

Naini Saini Airport – Connecting Pithoragarh

Tucked away in the scenic Pithoragarh district is the Naini Saini Airport (IATA: NNS, ICAO: VIPG), the newest entrant in Uttarakhand’s aviation map. Though still a small regional facility, Naini Saini Airport holds immense promise in opening up tourism opportunities in the remote eastern Kumaon region.

Scenic Location

The airport is located just 3 km from Pithoragarh town, with the snow-capped Panchachuli peaks forming a majestic backdrop. Set amidst hills at an altitude of over 1600 m, Naini Saini offers one of the most picturesque approaches for an airport in India.

Besides the aerial scenery, the terminal building itself incorporates local stone and wood architecture. This allows travelers to get a taste of Kumaon’s beauty right upon arrival.

Air Connectivity Plans

To boost tourism, the Uttarakhand government has ambitious plans to expand flight connectivity from Naini Saini Airport. These include:

  • Starting daily commercial flights to Delhi in the first phase.
  • Adding new connections to other metro cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru.
  • Introducing intra-state flights between Pithoragarh and Dehradun/Pantnagar.
  • Operationalizing charter helicopter services to remote valley towns.

Once implemented, these would allow easy access to the Kumaon districts of Bageshwar and Champawat along with areas bordering Nepal and Tibet.

Upgrading Infrastructure

To support the connectivity plans, Naini Saini Airport is also undergoing major upgrades including:

  • Extending the runway for larger aircraft operations.
  • Construction of a new terminal building with modern amenities.
  • Installation of navigation and lighting facilities.
  • Development of requisite air traffic control systems.

Along with air connectivity, the simultaneous improvement of road infrastructure will also boost Naini Saini Airport’s potential as an important gateway to eastern Uttarakhand.

Though still in its infancy, Naini Saini Airport could be pivotal in opening up unexplored parts of Kumaon for tourism and economic growth. Its unique location and charm also enhance the overall air travel experience.

Smaller Airports & Airstrips, Hailypads

Apart from the 3 operational civilian airports, Uttarakhand also has several smaller airstrips and airfields. While commercial flights are limited currently, these facilities play an important role in providing connectivity and emergency access to remote areas.

Chinyalisaur Airport : IATA: none ICAO: VI82

Located in Uttarkashi district, Chinyalisaur serves as a small commercial airport with scheduled flights to Dehradun. Its short runway of just over 1 km limits aircraft operations. However, Chinyalisaur provides vital air access to Gangotri and Yamunotri pilgrimage sites located further ahead.

Gauchar Airport in Utttarakhand

Gauchar Airport in Chamoli district is primarily used for military and helicopter operations. Its high altitude terrain makes it ideal for operational maneuvers and adventure training. Gauchar Airport has also served as a rescue base during natural calamities like the Kedarnath floods.

Khairna Hailypad (Almora)

This airport near Almora mainly handles charter operations. Its proximity to Nainital and Corbett makes it suitable for tourists hiring haly services for regional transfers.

Other helicopter Airstrips

Smaller airstrips like Agastyamuni (Rudraprayag), Chaukhutia (Almora), Lal Mati (Pithoragarh) etc. mainly serve limited helicopter and private charter services. These provide accessibility to remote valleys.

Though limited in scale currently, these facilities underscore the potential for enhancing intra-state connectivity through small aircraft under the UDAN scheme. With suitable upgrades, some could evolve into full-fledged airports in future.

Importance of Airports for Uttarakhand Tourism & Growth

Airports serve as vital gateways that connect Uttarakhand to the rest of India and enable the state to unleash its full tourism potential. Some key reasons underline their importance:

Boosting Tourism

  • Allows tourists easy access to remote hill areas that are not well connected by roads.
  • Provides connectivity to trekking base camps and wildlife parks located in hills.
  • Enables pilgrims to conveniently reach Char Dham sites.
  • Allows same-day travel from Delhi/metro cities to popular hill stations.
  • Helps kickstart tourist seasons by bringing in initial visitor batches.

Economic Growth

  • Opens trade opportunities for local agricultural and handloom products.
  • Improves supply chain efficiency enabling perishable exports like flowers, fruits, vegetables etc.
  • Allows easy mobility for professionals, boosting investment and services sector.
  • Provides emergency access to remote areas for rescue operations.
  • Enables rapid transportation of medicines, vaccines to hills.

Administrative Efficiency

  • Allows government officials and personnel to frequently travel between state headquarters and remote districts.
  • Enables security forces to better access border areas and maintain law and order.
  • Provides rapid connectivity during election campaigns and voting.
  • Helps efficiently conduct statewide recruitment drives and exams.

Thus, airports in Uttarakhand have strategic importance beyond just ferrying tourists. They are crucial nodes spurring holistic growth and integration of the mountainous state.

The Way Ahead

With demand growing each year, the government aims to rapidly enhance Uttarakhand’s air connectivity to unleash the state’s true potential.

Some key focus areas going forward would be:

  • Expanding existing airports like Jolly Grant and Pantnagar.
  • Developing airports like Naini Saini and Chinyalisaur into full-fledged commercial hubs.
  • Leveraging newer seaplane and helicopter routes to connect smaller towns under the UDAN scheme.
  • Investing in navigational upgrades to allow smooth flight operations.
  • Improving multimodal connectivity between airports and tourist sites.
  • Adopting green solutions to limit environmental impact.
  • Streamlining policy and regulations to attract airline operators.

With tourism projected as Uttarakhand’s main economic growth engine, aviation infrastructure would be the wheels enabling its rapid expansion. While the sky may not be the limit for Uttarakhand’s airport ambitions, it certainly is the most promising path going forward.

So get ready to soar through the clouds into Uttarakhand’s magical hills!

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