AAI silence, SAIL funding cloud over Rourkela airport

SAIL’s commitment to fund operational costs ends in October 2025
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only. (Photo | PTI)

ROURKELA: The future of commercial flight services at Rourkela Airport hangs in the balance as the Airport Authority of India (AAI) reportedly remains unresponsive to demands for its takeover from the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL). With SAIL’s commitment to fund operational costs set to end in 17 months, concerns are growing about the airport’s sustainability.

Despite the airport’s commercial viability, the promised upgrade to a Code 3C category, allowing for the operation of larger aircraft, has not been initiated, while the present operation of a single aircraft on two routes continues to be erratic and plagued with myriad of problems.

Under pressure from the state government and other stakeholders, Alliance Air began operations on the Rourkela-Bhubaneswar route on January 7, 2023, just before the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup. More recently, direct flights to Kolkata commenced three times a week.

Even then, operational reliability remains an issue, with frequent and abrupt cancellations and delays. The airport, holding an ARC 2C licence, was recently upgraded for Special VFR (Visual Flight Rules) operations, allowing landings in minimum visibility of 2,800 metre.

However, there is an urgent need for Instrument Landing System (ILS) and night landing facilities to ensure all-weather operations and improved flight regularity. The biggest concern for passengers and stakeholders is whether the airport will continue to operate after October 2025, when SAIL’s agreement with AAI ends.

Reliable sources indicate that Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) of SAIL signed a three-year agreement with AAI on October 28, 2022, under which AAI manages the airport, while RSP covers costs exceeding Rs 3 crore annually.

Former general secretary of Steel Executives’ Federation of India (SEFI) Bimal Bisi said with SAIL’s profit likely to reduce in near future there is every possibility of SAIL not willing to bear airport’s operation cost beyond October 2025. He further added around the same time the three-year term of the RCS-UDAN scheme also ends. “There is a growing concern about the future of flight continuity. In the worst case scenario, the state government may have to run the airport,” Bisi stated.

The government has tasked RITES Ltd with preparing a Detailed Project Report for upgrading the airport to a Code 3C category.

Outgoing Sundargarh MP and BJP candidate Jual Oram has consistently raised the issue with the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA). He asserted that full AAI takeover would resolve the airport’s problems. Oram promised that if re-elected, he would ensure the airport’s land is transferred to AAI through the state government for a smooth transition.

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The New Indian Express