For Visakhapatnam, which boasts of a national highway, a major railway junction and one of the best ports, lack of good air transport facility is a drawback. The City of Destiny, as a result, lags far behind not only in terms of passenger travel but also cargo transportation. And for some strange reason, expansion works of the airport are progressing at a snail’s pace notwithstanding promises from all stakeholders.
The Visakhapatnam Airport, which was originally set up for defence purposes, is the second busiest in the State. It bagged the Best Airport Award in tier two category from the Union Tourism Ministry last month.
At present, the airport handles 16 arrivals and departures every day. The airport has been developed with a new terminal building functioning with an expanded runway of 10,500 sft. Night landing facility with instrument landing system is also in place.
The proposed expansion works for conversion of the old terminal building into a cargo handling terminal with `1.6 crore are progressing at a slow pace. Under the proposed project, the height of the terminal should be increased apart from adding cold storage capacity that could boost exports and imports of several products.
Though some cargo was exported to Singapore in March this year, the facilities do not meet the requirements for bulk cargo exports.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has agreed to set up a full-fledged cargo handling terminal. It would be a boon for exporting various products from Visakhapatnam particularly seafood, flowers, pharma, and other goods.
As of now, only domestic cargo is allowed from the airport.
While a growth of 15 per cent was recorded in terms of air travellers, the cargo transportation growth rate was around 38 per cent last year. Notwithstanding the good patronage, the AAI has failed to cash in on the situation. During March last year, international flight services were started from Vizag and there is scope to export two tonne international cargo everyday.
“The airport requires adequate staff, additional scanners and other security equipment for cargo handling which is lacking. We were promised by the AAI that these facilities will be installed in the next two or three months. We are also negotiating with international air cargo flight owners to operate exclusive cargo flights from the airport,” said D Varada Reddy, president of Air Travellers Association of India.
With Silk Air beginning its services in November last year and two other international airlines showing interest, the scope for air cargo movement would increase, he said.
On the other hand, air travellers are also facing trouble due to the less number of domestic flights even as the demand for international flights is mounting from tourists.
The AAI authorities admitted that they need to improve daily connectivity flights apart from operating more international and domestic flights.
“This airport is under the control of the Navy and lacks enough staff. These are major obstacles for expansion of airport and operation of more flights - both passenger and cargo. We are making all efforts to speed up the expansion works and increasing the staff as well as negotiate with flight operators to operate more flights,” said an AAI official.