Though a boon in the long run, the ongoing work of modernisation of airfield infrastructure (MAFI) has taken a toll on operators with the Non-Scheduled Operators’ Permit (NSOP). The partial runway closure that begins at 10 pm and continues till 8.30 am on the next working day, followed by the Sukhoi fighter operations till 10.30 am and busy scheduled operators’ flying post 10.30 am, the NSOP operators have been left with no slot to operate during morning hours.
To add to their woes, the partial closure of the main runway at the Mumbai airport for eight hours a day, including two hours of NOTAM (hazard alert) from 5.30 to 7.30 pm, has pinched the regular passengers who would take off from Pune in the morning and return from Mumbai by evening. While the ones in the business of chartered flights have been affected with regard to revenue, those using the chartered flights for businesses of their own companies have been facing delay in commuting, rescheduling of appointments and postponements of business commitments, besides others.
An official of one of the NSOP operators told The Sunday Express, “Operations between Mumbai and Pune forms a major chunk of business for NSOP operators. Besides, there are aircraft owners who fly between the two cities for their own business. Clients and owners mostly prefer to fly to Mumbai early in the morning, so that they can carry on with their appointments in Mumbai all through the day. But with MAFI on, there is no way NSOP flights can take off before 10.30 am.”
While that is with mornings in Pune, according to an operator, “The Mumbai runway is partially closed for eight hours a day and NOTAM between 5.30 and 7.30 pm every day till May. As a result, the chartered flights, which take off from Mumbai to return to Pune after the clients finish their day’s work, cannot take off from Mumbai between 5.30 and 7.30 pm. Also, landing in Pune between 7 and 10 pm is at times uncertain, due to fighter aircraft operations. Clients, thus, prefer to travel by expressway.”
An official pegged the drop in the Mumbai-Pune commuting during MAFI closure by 20 per cent. Also, night flights to Mumbai, which would connect elite business fliers from city to international early morning flights from Mumbai, have been discontinued. The loss can be judged from the fact that according to the website of a reputed NSOP operator, the charges of an aircraft are over Rs 3 lakh per hour.
“As far as flights to other destinations within India are concerned, it is preferable to travel by a commercial airline than waiting in the lounge for a chartered flight to get clearance amidst busy commercial airline flights,” said another operator.
But, there is a reason NSOPs have been ‘adjusting’ to the temporary disruptions. W H Marshall, CEO of Poonawalla Aviation said, “We have a single runway, and the Instrument Landing System (ILS) and other supporting infrastructure that MAFI will get for the Lohegaon runway will improve landing and take-off of aircraft.”
Manoj Kumar Gangal, Airport Director, said, “We have taken up the matter (of Mumbai runway closure) with Mumbai and Delhi, and a feasible solution may soon be worked out.”