Is our aviation infrastructure capable of handling the sector's growth?

ROHIT CHANDAVARKAR
Friday, 6 September 2019

As the nation gets ready to celebrate the historic second landing of an Indian spacecraft on the moon much is being talked about Indian Space Research Organization's achievements and all Indians are proud to salute the ISRO, however one area in which India has achieved equally big growth in the past four decades is now feeling the heat of lack of rapid infrastructure expansion and that is India's civil aviation. 

As the nation gets ready to celebrate the historic second landing of an Indian spacecraft on the moon much is being talked about Indian Space Research Organization's achievements and all Indians are proud to salute the ISRO, however one area in which India has achieved equally big growth in the past four decades is now feeling the heat of lack of rapid infrastructure expansion and that is India's civil aviation. 

As headlines about Chandrayan make us feel proud on other side we see headlines about how thousands of air passengers suffered because over two days close to 30 flights which were to land or take off from Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Airport were cancelled because of rains and floods at the airport. Normally Mumbai city does not witness such incidents in the month of September when monsoon is usually receding. 30 cancellations meant thousands of passengers getting stranded and suffering financial losses. Looking at the rate at which aviation sector is growing in India, the financial capital of the country should have had a second airport ready by now or in fact 5 years ago itself! However even construction work of the proposed new airport at Navi Mumbai ( about 50 kilometres away from the present airport) has not begun. This gives rise to the question: "Is India's aviation infrastructure capable of handling the sector's growth" ? 

Ideally any international airport which has more than 700 landings and take-offs every day should have two parallel runways. World over it is seen that most airports have at least two runways ( or more) so that one runway handles take-offs and the other handles landings. This makes it possible for the Air Traffic Control ( ATC)  to push the traffic fast. Mumbai airport does have two runways but they are not parallel. They cross each other which makes it difficult to divide them for landing and take off functions. In addition the secondary runway has a hill in its glide path making it difficult to put instrument landing system CAT III compliant. Because all such constraints, the government decided in early 1990s to build a second large airport for Mumbai city at Navi Mumbai. But for over 25 years even the construction of this airport has not started and reportedly there are many issues in land acquisition which the government is struggling with. 

What we see at Mumbai airport, is more or less seen of late at Pune airport too. The airport authority of India is trying to do its best to accommodate as many flights at this airport with a single runway available. But at times the place gets highly overcrowded. Pune too is supposed to have a second airport at Purandar. But there too, land acquisition is stuck and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel  at least as of now. 

Aviation sector has so far been India's success story specially with the government's UDAN scheme and with new venture capitalists wanting to enter the sector with funds to sponsor new airlines. However the growth of infrastructure must be pushed and achieved at a much faster rate than what is happening now. Keeping politics aside new airports, multiple runways must be built. New air corridors must be opened and issues like land acquisition must be solved so that this success story can continue in the coming decades.  

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