Runway re-carpeting & airport closures could apply brakes on 20% growth of Indian Aviation

A few days before the headlines talked about Indian Aviation closing 2015 with 20% growth, there appeared news of what could be potential derailment of that growth in 2016. (Runway repair may disrupt flight schedule, Runways to close during peak time)

Major airports across the country will see closure / partial closure of operations in 2016. This is bound to have an impact on passengers travelling to/from these cities and a reduction in services will push up air fares. The airlines will also be affected as they will have to find ways to utilize their assets and find other profitable routes where aircraft can be deployed during this period.

The airports which could see closure for varying periods in 2016 are Ahmedabad, Trivandrum, Kolkata, Indore and Amritsar.

The operator (Airports Authority of India) does not have a standard yardstick for such closures. Amritsar is expected to be closed for operations from 15th February 2016 to 31stDecember 2016 from 2000 hrs to 0600 hrs every day. (No night flights to Amritsar from Feb 15) However, much busier Ahmedabad airport is proposed to be shut for operations from 1000 hrs to 1800 hrs from April’2016 to March’2017.

While Amritsar will see minimal disruptions, one arrival and departure going by current schedule, Ahmedabad will see over 40 flights, mostly domestic, disrupted for the entire period. Had this work been conducted in the same hours like that of Amritsar, the affected movements would be down to just over 10.

Ahmedabad is connected to 11 domestic and 9 international destinations by 14 airlines while Amritsar is connected to 3 domestic and 7 international destinations which include Air India connectors to Birmingham and London.

Ahmedabad is the 7th biggest airport in the country by passengers carried (based on AAI data for 2014-15) and carried 5050433 passengers in 2014-15. Interestingly, 76% of these passengers flew on domestic flights, the ones which will be affected the most if the proposed closure goes ahead.

Incidentally Ahmedabad has seen closure of operations for six and half hours each day for a month in 2011 for runway repairs. Most of the airlines had operated flights to Vadodara, over 100 kms by road from Ahmedabad.

While the NOTAM for Ahmedabad and Amritsar are not yet out, Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala will see complete closure of runway between 1030hrs to 1730 hours from 1stOctober’2016 to 31st December’2016. The airport will have displaced threshold till then when work for the runway continues in parts.  A similar advanced intimation to airlines and passengers for work at all airports could go a long way.

Indore is likely to see closure every day from 0600hrs to 1200 hrs for six months. Interestingly, there are no departures from late evening to early morning from Indore and the work can well be done during the night.

Possible Solution

Runway re-carpeting is done worldwide and is not a phenomenon restricted to India alone. However, world over it is done by planning in advance by taking the airlines into consideration and also releasing relevant NOTAMs in advance.

While the effects are reduced at airports which have dual runways, the impact is more at most of the Indian airports due to single runway operations. Airports at Goa and Pune have been closed for some period of time in the past for runway work. Currently the runway at Calicut is not capable of handling wide body operations due to ongoing runway repairs.

Sample this, in 2014, Dubai closed one of its two runways for re-carpeting. A work which was done over a period of 80 days with information given out to airlines a year in advance if not more. Slots were adjusted, flights were cancelled, but it was handled effectively by informing people and airlines along with the media.

Affected Airlines

Amritsar – Air India, Jet Airways and Spicejet operate to Amritsar and none are likely to be impacted due to the timing

Ahmedabad – Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo, Spicejet, Go Air, Air Costa and Vistara operate to Ahmedabad and all airlines are expected to have an impact on schedules

Trivandrum – Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo and Air Pegasus operate to the city and some international airlines will also be affected due to the closure

Indore – Air India, Jet Airways and IndiGo operate to Indore and all of them will be affected

Passenger Concerns

Passengers should take care while booking the flights and a delay in releasing official NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) would mean a delay in changing schedules by the airline. These are some of the situations which are beyond the control of the airline and should not blame the airline for the same.

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