The Veer Savarkar International Airport at Port Blair (IATA:IXZ, ICAO:VOPB) – the only airport accepting scheduled civil aviation flights in Andaman and Nicobar will be closed for operations for four days a week starting March 01, 2022. The airport will be closed for operations from Tuesday to Friday, while it will accept flights on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. The airport has been undergoing runway up gradation and expansion work for a while and this block closure is essential for re-carpeting. The four day closure will continue till May 31, 2022.
The airport is controlled and managed by the Indian Navy and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has a civil enclave. The hours of operations are restricted from 0800hrs to 1400hrs local time. Apart from Naval flying requirements, it is also to do with the heavy winds and lack of alternates in vicinity. With no civil movements post 1400hrs, the work so far is being done post afternoon, unlike at other airports where day closure are needed before going for a longer closure.
Runway re-carpeting is a standard practice which needs to be done at periodic intervals, depending on the wear and tear of the runway – which is not only dependent on air traffic movements but also other factors like weather. In case of Port Blair, the naval operations also take precedence in deciding the timing of the upgrade. Currently, Ahmedabad airport is undergoing runway works and has led to a nine hour closure during the day time. Last year, Pune had seen a total closure of 15 days for runway re-carpeting.
Port Blair traffic is seasonal in nature and the tourism industry has suffered due to the pandemic and subsequent restrictions – which were more than mainland, keeping in mind the limited medical facilities on the island.
In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic – the traffic per month shows the seasonal nature of traffic. The seasonal typically starts on Oct 01 and stretches into mid February. This is due to the favorable weather during this period. The weather becomes hot and sultry in March, leading up to extreme heat in May and passenger numbers drop post June when the island is battered by heavy rains until end of September.
From a tourism stand point, the best months for work could have been July and August, but those are also the months with highest rainfall making any runway work impossible to execute.
The tourism industry will be up in arms against this closure as it impacts inbound tourists but efforts are being done to accommodate additional flights on the three days of operations to ensure that passenger numbers don’t drop drastically. With Port Blair being a leisure/holiday destination, the average stay of passengers is longer and since the closure is not complete – it won’t have a very large impact.
A new terminal is under construction at the airport, which will triple the current passenger handling capacity. Over a period of time, the apron has been expanded to handle additional aircraft.
February’s flight schedule for Port Blair is available in this tweet.