NEW DELHI: Planning to take a flight to Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram, Ahmedabad or Jaipur? It could soon be a flight of fancy. Hold on to that boarding card as your aircraft is likely to wait for a runway to land or take off since the Airport Authority of India (AAI), in its wisdom, will be re-carpeting landing strips during peak hours in foggy winter. The decision will impact travel plans of about 30,000 flyers over a period of time, affect the schedule of up to 20 flights per day to Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Indore and Thiruvananthapuram. Major airports, especially in North and East India are bracing for fog-induced delays.
AAI’s timing has angered airlines as seats are selling fast for the holiday season. The move in effect means closure of airports. The delays and disruptions can lead to ticket cancellations. The worst affected will be passengers with connecting international flights.
Winters bring airlines their share of woes. AAI had promised to install Advance Landing Systems (ALS) in Jaipur, Lucknow and Amritsar to handle aircraft diverted from Delhi, but it is not yet in place.
“Instead of expediting ALS, AAI has decided to re-surface runways. Airlines should have been informed at least six months to a year in advance so that better planning could be executed. Re-carpeting should not take more than three to four months,” said Debashis Saha of the Aeronautical Society of India. In Dubai airport, it was completed in three months.
The re-carpeting of Ahmedabad airport—where flights are diverted to in winter—will take over a year— from December 15 this year to May 31, 2017. While the runway can be partially used until February 29, 2016, it will be completely closed thereafter between 10 am to 6 pm. Ahmedabad airport sees over 34 lakh passengers a year, making it one of the busiest in the country.
The sixth busiest airport in the country, the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, faces major disruptions as its primary runway will undergo re-carpeting and major repairs will be done to the secondary runway. It is the only CAT II enabled airport in eastern India, and the decision has enraged airline operators who are demanding postponement of the work as it will lead to delays of 30-45 minutes per arrival and departure.
“This will play havoc with passengers and with the on-time performance of airlines and severely impact additional flights and passengers booked over the entire network of airlines,” the operators have communicated to Director General of Civil Aviation and AAI.
Re-carpeting of Thiruvananthapuram airport, which handled 20 lakh passengers this year, will start the third week of December and will go on for a year, with the runway closed between 10.30 am to 5.30 pm. Similarly, work at Indore airport is slated to begin in mid-February 2016 to August 2016, making the runway non-operational between 6 am to 12 pm.