COMMERCIAL flight operations finally began from Shirdi airport Sunday after President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the first flight, which went to Mumbai. The maiden Shirdi-Mumbai flight reached the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) at 10.30 am. Two commercial flights operated out of the Shirdi airport on the first day, carrying at least 100 passengers in all.
After inaugurating the airport, in the presence of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Kovind left for the Shirdi Sai Baba Trust for the centenary celebrations of the temple, where he dedicated the airport to the people of the town.
Built at a cost of Rs 260 crore by the Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation, the airport received principal approvals in 2012. The airport will for the time being operate two flights — one to Mumbai in the morning and the other to Hyderabad in the evening — by the Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India. While the Shirdi-Mumbai flight will operate every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the Mumbai-Shirdi flight will be operated every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The Shirdi-Hyderabad to and fro services will operate on all days except Thursdays.
Devi Nagendrakumar, who had come to Shirdi Friday to offer prayers at the temple, took the Hyderabad-bound flight from Shirdi airport Sunday. Speaking to The Indian Express, he said, “The total ticket cost for three of us including me is double that of train tickets. However, we are happy we will be saving on the total travel time as we will reach in just two hours as compared to the total 12 hours taken in a train.” Some passengers, however, reportedly found it difficult to book tickets online with Shirdi as origin or destination airport not showing up on popular travel portals.
“The airline allowed me to book flights from Shirdi as they were facing issues in approaching other booking websites for the same. I helped nine passengers book their flights to Hyderabad on Sunday morning,” said Vijay Jejurkar who runs Sai Yatri, a travel booking website.
Four officials of the Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Communication Navigation System (CNS) from CSIA have been posted at the Shirdi airport. “We are equipped with handling low visibility operations out of Shirdi and are also arranging equipment to handle very low visibility operations too. Ensuring safety of flights out of Shirdi will remain the aim. We hope to see a higher traffic growth from Shirdi in the coming days,” said K Vasudevan, General Manager, ATC (Western Region).
Officials from the MADC said they aimed to initiate night landing facilities at the airport in the next three months. Another terminal building that can handle 500 passengers in peak rush hours, in addition to the existing terminal building that can hold 300 passengers during peak hours, is also being planned.
“While our two parking slots at the airport are well equipped to park both ATR and Airbus aircraft, we aim to build two new slots in the coming few months. We expect air traffic to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming days out of Shirdi airport. The work of runway extension is also on to handle operations of international flights,” said C S Gupta, General Manager, MADC.
The airfares for the flights based out of Shirdi ranged between Rs 1,850 and Rs 2,350 on the inaugural day. According to Alliance Air officials, it will remain same in the coming days. Other airlines, including TruJet and Zoom Air have expressed interest in starting operations from the airport. While the airport sees a staff strength of 70 at present, airport officials said tenders had been floated to hire more people on contract for airport maintenance.