- Pune is the largest city in India without a dedicated airport
- Current airport is a civilian enclave at defense airport
Pune Airport – one of the top 10 in the country by domestic air traffic, will be shutting down for all operations from October 16, 2021 to October 29, 2021. The 14 day closure is to undertake the runway repair works – largely for the middle portion of the runway.
The airport has been operating for 12 hours between 0800hrs to 2000 hrs each day since September 2020 when the runway and other infrastructural works started. The small terminal is struggling to handle the passenger load since there are between 50 to 60 departures in this time.
The airport was to remain closed for 15 days starting April 26, but was delayed indefinitely as transportation of vaccine picked up. Pune is home to Serum Institute of India – the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world and contributing to the vaccination effort of India.
Pune is the largest city by population in the country which does not have a dedicated airport. With the urban conglomerate having a population of over 50 lakh people, the city has to depend on the civil enclave at Air Force Station Lohegaon for air connectivity.
The airport had seen a similar closure in the past as well when the airport saw implementation of MAFI (Modernisation of Air Field Infrastructure). The closure was in 2014 when the operating window was 1030hrs to 2200 hours. Back then, there were 65 flights a day and traffic and flights have grown leaps and bound since then!
Is it really needed, how are others doing it?
All airports have to undergo periodic runway recarpeting and repairs along with taking up other infrastructure works at apron and runway. Not all airports are shut for 15 days at a stretch. Ahmedabad airport, for example, will undergo repairs from January to May next year with a closure of 9 hours per day.
Mumbai – the most congested airport in the country, has seen six hours closure in the past to complete runway repair works.
However, Pune is not a civilian airport. Being a defense airfield which hosts frontline squadrons of the Indian Air Force, the requirements can be different and more often closely guarded. Thus the NOTAM only mentions the closure timings along with a broad information of work, instead of details of exact work being done.
Pune was the hotspot for COVID-19 in both the waves in the country. The air traffic had suffered a lot during these two waves and has since recovered. Not only are the flight loads doing well, new connections primarily by SpiceJet and IndiGo has seen the city connect to other cities where there were no direct flights ever!
This will impact the airlines and passengers alike. Pune – the home of Serum Institute of India (SII) supplying bulk of the vaccines in India will also be impacted with additional cost to send the vaccine to Mumbai and transport it to other parts of the country.
Timing of announcement
We have two cases – first where the flights were closed for sale from Apr 26 to May 09, 2021 for closure and the closure was called off at the last minute. This had led to airlines not seeing any future bookings and cancelling the flights on most days.
The other is the current case where we are only 10 days away from the closure, flights are doing well and people are likely to travel before the holiday season – especially since the end days of the closure coincides with the weekend before Diwali!
This last minute announcement could have been prevented with better project management and avoiding a closure pre-Diwali! This is also the season of retreating monsoon and the closure days could well be impacted by rains!
Will the closure go ahead as planned or will the commercial pressure push this again? Time will tell! For now, airlines are yet to close flights for sale!