FLIGHT SERVICES from Nanded and Shirdi to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) have still not started. By the first week of July, Nanded airport was to be connected to CSIA under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), while Shirdi airport was to start several airline services to Mumbai. While officials said Shirdi airport has not yet received the operational licence to start flights, the situation at Nanded airport was much more muddled. Regional carrier TruJet has been operating flights under RCS between Nanded’s Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Airport and Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad since April and this route was expected to be extended to Mumbai.
TruJet officials said pending corrective work on the airport runway was stopping them from starting the service to Mumbai, whereas airport officials insisted there was nothing wrong with the runway and that a dearth of aircraft and pilots in the airline was behind the delay. TruJet officials said running additional flights on the runway could damage it. “At present, we fly one flight per day between Nanded and Hyderabad airports on the single runway. We have been told that running two aircraft every day on that runway could damage it. We are waiting for clearances from airport authorities as far as runway work is concerned,” said a TruJet official.
“We were going to suspend the present operational plan between Nanded and Hyderabad due to the runway problem. However, we have avoided doing so because we received a positive response after we started this route. They have promised us to complete the work by this month’s end,” the official added. However, officials from Nanded airport say they are waiting for a final call from the airline to begin their operations. “As far as infrastructure is concerned, the airport is completely ready. It can take four flights per day and allows travel to 1.5 million passengers per annum. There is no operational constraint,” said Manoj Veettil, Nanded airport manager.
“TruJet faces a dearth of aircraft and pilots which delays the extension of the route to Mumbai. If it was a runway problem, they would not have been able to operate on the Hyderabad route. While we are waiting for funds for the re-carpeting the runway, this should not delay their extension plans,” said Binu Varghese, director of Reliance Airport developers which manages Nanded airport. According to the plan, Nanded airport will cater to one flight per day between Mumbai and Nanded. Under this, the fare per seat will not go above Rs 2,500, as per RCS norms. The airline later plans to extend it to two flight trips on a daily basis.
The Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL), which manages CSIA, has offered eight slots to airlines for running flights under RCS. Among them, SpiceJet will commence its operations from Mumbai to Kandla and Porbandar from Monday. Meanwhile, Shirdi airport waits for an official clearance from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for attaining the operational licence to start flights. Officials said they have tried to work upon the initial recommendations given by the air safety body till then.
“During their visit last year, the body had instructed us to make certain technical changes in the apron and other airport infrastructure, which we have done. Basic requirements needed to get the clearance for the airport are in place,” said C S Gupta, General Manager, Maharashtra Aviation Development Corporation (MADC). At first, Shirdi airport was only meant to cater to charter flights and private players. But after demands raised by Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan and passengers, authorities decided to open it for the public.
“So many things have to be amended once the nature of the airport’s usage changes. We have worked upon most of these and are sure to begin operations by July-end. The DGCA team is expected to visit the airport next week,” added Gupta. Three airlines including Air India, Zoom Air and TruJet have shown interest in starting operations between Shirdi and Mumbai. Flight operations to Shirdi will not be classified under the RCS scheme.
“We are following up with authorities of both airports on a daily basis. While re-carpeting of the runway at Nanded airport will not be possible till the end of monsoons, Shirdi airport can start operations by September. Flight operations from both airports are expected to see a positive response,” said Valsa Nair, principal secretary, civil aviation, Maharashtra government.