Alliance Air will resume its flight services connecting Chennai and Sri Lanka’s northern city of Jaffna next week, after a nearly three-year, pandemic-induced break.  

“The operations will resume on December 12, with four weekly flights between the two cities,” a senior official of Alliance Air told  The Hindu. The airline was earlier a subsidiary of Air India, until the national carrier’s divestment and hand over to the Tata Group in January this year.  

The service, tested in October 2019 and launched in November that year, operated until March 2020, when the pandemic hit the region, forcing governments to shut airports and borders. In the four months that the flights ran between the two cities, services were increased owing to high demand, officials familiar with the operations said.

Need for connectivity

Prior to the service, residents in northern Sri Lanka had to travel south to capital Colombo, either by train or a nearly eight hour-road trip, to take a flight out of the country. The resumption of Chennai-Jaffna flight operations comes as welcome news for the Tamils living in and around Jaffna, in the Northern Province. Professionals and the business community living in the northern region have repeatedly emphasised the need for greater connectivity with India, for business and trade interests, inward tourism, and personal, familial visits.  

The Palaly airport, barely 20 km north of Jaffna town, was built by the British for the Royal Air Force, during the Second World War. The Sri Lankan military has a base in Palaly, with its regional headquarters, not far from the Sri Lankan naval base in Kankesanthurai, on the tip of Jaffna Peninsula. India and Sri Lanka have agreed to develop the port in Kankesanthurai and are also exploring ferry services connecting the coastal town with Karaikal in Puducherry.

The projects seek not only to enhance connectivity between northern Sri Lanka and the southern States of India, but also to draw investments in the island’s war-affected region by opening it up, authorities from India and Sri Lanka have said. It was with that aim that Palaly was upgraded and renamed the Jaffna International Airport in 2019, just before the Jaffna-Chennai flight was launched. The Jaffna International Airport awaits a few more upgrades, including an extended runway, according to Sri Lanka’s Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.

Meera Srinivasan is The Hindu Correspondent in Colombo.