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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Pune Airport: The scheduled shutdown comes 12 years after the last one in 2008

At that time too, the Indian Air Force had carried out a recarpeting of the runway and had shut the airport for all civil flights for 15 days.

Written by Atikh Rashid | Pune |
Updated: October 7, 2021 8:24:51 am
Pune Airport is a civil enclave operating from the IAF station of Lohegaon, the primary function of which is to train IAF pilots by undertaking sortie operations. (File)

The scheduled fortnight-long closure of Pune Airport later this month will be the first such shutdown since 2008 when flights were grounded for two weeks to carry out maintenance works. At that time too, the Indian Air Force had carried out a recarpeting of the runway and had shut the airport for all civil flights for 15 days.

The Pune Airport is a civil enclave operating from the Indian Air Force station of Lohegaon which is used to train IAF pilots. Barring a few hours a day that are reserved for the training flights, the runway is made available to be used for civic operations managed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

The decision to shut down flight operations completely between October 16 and 30, announced by the AAI Tuesday, has evoked strong reactions from flyers, industrialists and others who have questioned the timing, which comes on the heels of the festival season, and the short notice of 10 days given by the authorities.

The airlines had booked flights during the period concerned and are now starting cancelling and refunding the amounts to the customers.

However, this is not the first time that such a closure – appalling as it seems for any international airport – is being effected at the Pune Airport. In 2008, the airport was shut for 14 days (from February 12 to 26) when the Air Force carried out runway recarpeting work. The closure, at that time, was said to have caused an estimated loss of Rs 15 crore to the airlines.

Dhairyashil Vandekar, aviation expert who was the then station manager of Air India, said when operations resumed after 14 days, passengers were welcomed with fresh roses at the arrival and departure terminals. “Air India and Flower Growers Association of Maharashtra had taken this initiative. It was greatly appreciated by the flyers and at the same time, it also highlighted the cargo export potential of the region which is a big producer of agricultural goods,” said Vandekar.

In 2014, Modernisation of the Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) work was undertaken at the airport for which the airport was shut every day between 10 pm and 8 am from January 15 to March 15 to facilitate the laying of new embedded lights along the central line of the runway. With the work taking away 10 hours and sortie training chipping away a few more hours, the AAI had to struggle to squeeze in over 100 flights that operated every day.

As per Vandekar, if Pune city were to get uninterrupted airline service, then the only solution is to get an independent modern airport.

“The Lohegaon Airport is a defence airport and that’s what it’s built for. There will always be constraints for civil operations because there’s a single runway and it has to be shared between civil and defence operations. Also, despite all efforts from the authorities to add facilities, there are limitations of space and security. The only solution to this perennial problem is to develop an independent and modern airport for Pune city,” said Vandekar.

As per Vandekar, despite the ongoing expansion projects, the needs of the city will not be met by the current airport. “Pune needs an airport that has a huge cargo capacity, heliport, sufficient number of parking bays, refrigeration facilities, broad approach roads and so on. The current location will not be able to meet the growing demands no matter how much you change it,” said Vandekar.

AAI has undertaken several expansion projects under which a new terminal building is being constructed, cargo facilities are being added and multi-storey parking erected at the present site after acquiring additional land from the Indian Air Force.

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