Even after pumping hundreds of crores into the international terminal, the much-awaited international operations from Chandigarh are not likely to take off to full capacity any time soon. Reason: The Indian Air Force will take at least two more years to modernise the airport’s runway, essential for the full-scale operations.
The IAF manages the runway, which is used for civil operations by existing domestic terminal, but with several riders including limited watch hours and lack of advanced facilities like modern instrument landing system and provisions for smooth landing of wide-bodied aircraft.
The Airport Authority of India (AAI) along with Punjab and Haryana had in 2008 initiated the construction of the international airport and have jointly spent more than Rs 1,100 crore for the terminal building in anticipation of making Chandigarh the next big international destination for aviation after Delhi. The new terminal, scheduled to be completed in next six months, cannot be put to full use since it will have the same undeveloped runway at its disposal.
The IAF, in its reply to a Sunday Newsline questionnaire, revealed that the runway will not be fully developed as per international norms before 2017. The IAF also said that to facilitate wide-bodied aircraft, that most international airlines rely on, the runway needed to expanded from the current length of 9,000 ft to 10,400 ft but the work was expected to be completed only by December 2016. A senior AAI official in Chandigarh said that unless the airport is prepared to handle wide-bodied aircraft, then at best, Chandigarh will be connected to nearby destinations including Bangkok, Colombo or Dubai where mid-sized aircraft can be plied.
24-hr operation under consideration: IAF
On the crucial question of the airport operating throughout the day, the IAF said 24-hour availability of the Chandigarh airport for civil aircraft operations was under consideration. “The requirement of additional manpower to increase watch hours is being processed. Once manpower accretion materialises, increase in watch hours to have 24×7 operations would be initiated,” the IAF official spokesperson said. The Chandigarh AAI official pointed out that 24-hour operations were crucial, without which, the funds pumped into the new building would have been wasted. Manmohan Singh, former CII Chandigarh Council chairman, said, “The local domestic airport got the approval of international flights in 2011 but not even a single flight has taken off so far because of limited watch hours. International flights mostly operate at night. Unless we have a 24-hour working runway, Chandigarh should forget being connected with the rest of the world,” he said.
Low visibility issues to persist till 2017
Air travellers expecting relief during winter will have to also wait for another two years as the IAF made it clear that the CAT-II instrument landing system (ILS), required for low visibility landing, will not be be made operational at the local runway before January 2017. Foggy days this season have made cancelled flights the order of the day as the present landing system, a basic CAT-I, does not allow landing when visibility drops below 1200 metres. Sunday Newsline accessed meteorological date of last 10 years for Chandigarh and found that average visibility at the runway drops below 500-300 metres on most of the days in December and January due to fog.
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