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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

14-day closure of Pune Airport ‘inescapable’, says IAF, assures vaccines will be airlifted to Mumbai

The IAF said that it had earlier planned the closure in April or May this year, but the Ministry of Defence asked it to postpone the move to avoid disruption of Covid-19 vaccine supply as two important vaccine manufacturing units are based in Pune.

By: Express News Service | Pune |
Updated: October 6, 2021 7:55:34 pm
The IAF said that the airport will resume its operations on October 30, a few days before Diwali. (Express file photo by Arul Horizon)

At the receiving end of criticism for scheduling a 14-day shutdown of Pune Airport in the middle of the festival season, that too at a short notice, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has said “complete closure of 14 days was inescapable”.

In a statement, the IAF has also said that the tentative date of the closure was intimated to airline officials and Airports Authority of India (AAI) in advance, but the exact duration could only be finalised after obtaining approvals from the Union Ministry of Defence and Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare.

The IAF has also said that during the time of the closure, it will ensure airlift of Covid-19 vaccines from Pune to Mumbai Airport by deploying its machinery to ensure uninterrupted supply chain of vaccines.

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“To address the issue of the rapidly deteriorating condition of the runway and associated operating surfaces at Air Force Station Pune, runway resurfacing was an urgent requirement. The aim is to prevent any damage to engines of operating aircraft,” read a statement by the IAF.

“The work of resurfacing, other than on the central flexible portion of runway, is nearing completion. To ensure timely availability of runway post resurfacing, complete closure of 14 days is inescapable and was planned in the third and fourth week of October,” it added.

The Air Force said that it had earlier planned the closure in April or May this year, but the Ministry of Defence asked it to postpone the move to avoid disruption of Covid-19 vaccine supply as two important vaccine manufacturing units are based in Pune.

“Partial closure of runway was undertaken at Pune for a period of 12 hours daily during night, to cause least possible disturbance to civil aviation, for a period of one year, from October 2020, during which time the work progressed. A 14-day complete closure was also planned from April 26, 2021 till May 9, 2021 to undertake the resurfacing of central bitumen portion of the runway. However, due to the emergent requirement for transportation of Covid-19 vaccine, the Ministry of Defence had directed that complete closure of runway be deferred,” it said.

The IAF said that the airport will resume its operations on October 30, a few days before Diwali.

“The tentative period of closure was intimated to all airline operators, local airport director and Airports Authority of India CHQ, well in advance. However, the exact dates of closure could be promulgated only after the requisite approvals were obtained from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Defence. As per the present plan, flight operations would resume from October 30, 2021, before Diwali festival,” it said.

“During the period of complete closure of the runway, IAF will ensure airlift of vaccines from Pune to Mumbai by deploying suitable IAF assets for the purpose, to ensure uninterrupted supply chain,” added the statement.

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