More than a month after its inauguration, flights from Mumbai to Shirdi show more than 80 per cent occupancy during weekends, according to senior officials from the Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation (MADC), which manages the airport. The one-hour route which connects Hyderabad to the pilgrim town is also drawing immense crowd.
The airport was inaugurated by President Ram Nath Kovind on October 1 this year. The airport is connected to Mumbai and Hyderabad by Alliance Air airline, a subsidiary of Air India. The ATR 72 connects the two cities on all days. “Flights from Mumbai to Shirdi see more than 80 per cent occupancy during the weekends. Tourists, who come to pay visit to the Shirdi Sai Baba temple halt for a day or two and tend to take a return flight the next day. The occupancy has even reached 85-90 per cent on most days during weekends,” says C S Gupta, General Manager, MADC.
The officials said the Hyderabad-Shirdi flights too were recording as much as 80 per cent occupancy on all days. “Travellers from Hyderabad would otherwise have to take a bus or use the rail route to travel till Aurangabad station to commute till Shirdi. With air travel cutting down the time taken to reach Shirdi to only one hour, the route sees major traffic,” Gupta added.
The MADC now intends to promote the route to other airlines, which can encourage more traffic to the airport. “The demand for the sector must be conveyed to the airlines. For example, visitors coming from Mumbai to Shirdi ask for at least two flight connections for both ways in a day as opposed to a single flight. There is an equal demand to connect Shirdi to the rest of the country. We wish other airlines would tap these routes,” said Suresh Kakani, Managing Director and Vice-Chairman, MADC.
Travellers have expressed happiness over the air route reducing the total time taken for the commute. “Travelling to Shirdi by road would take up your entire day which would be strenuous. We are happy the air route has reduced the overall time taken. Frequency of the flights to Shirdi could be increased,” said Jayesh Kumar from Mumbai, who had flown to Shirdi last week.
The officials are now planning an extension of the runway to enable airlines to park wide-body aircraft at the airport. Night landing at the airport, which could allow flight operations after 6 pm, is expected by the end of January. “Almost 45 per cent of devotees visiting the temple are from Andhra Pradesh. While flyers from Hyderabad have expressed joy over the route, there is also a demand to connect Chennai and Bangalore to Shirdi,” added Rubal Agarwal, CEO, Shirdi Sansthan.