India attempts flexible use of airspace to cut time, costs

  • Tushar Srivastava, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 10, 2015 02:02 IST

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the defence ministry have for the first time carried out test flights for Flexible Use of Airspace (FUA), it would result in significant savings for airlines and cut down travel time sharply. Once FUA is instituonalised, commercial flights can fly over restricted zones with prior approval from defence authorities.

About 40% of Indian airspace comes under defence authorities, and is restricted for civil aircraft movement. As a result, most of the navigational routes are not straight, and commercial flights have to circumvent the restricted areas thereby losing fuel and time, while adding to carbon emission.

On the Delhi-Goa sector, which sees around 15 flight movements a day, airlines take an average 23 minutes of additional travel time while flying from Mumbai coastline to Goa.

AAI and defence authorities have devised an FUA manual. Once implemented, it would result in significant savings even on international flights.

For example, on the Ahmedabad-Dubai sector, Indian carriers incur an additional Rs 1 lakh expenditure on fuel as they avoid the restricted airspace over the state and fly over the Pakistani airspace. “Airlines pay another $500 (Rs 32,000) per flight for entering the Pakistan airspace, which they could easily avoid if certain part of the restricted airspace is open,” said an airline official.

AAI, defence and airline officials, had held a meeting on FUA last week after which SpiceJet operated the first flight under FUA validation on the Delhi-Dehradun-Delhi sector. Sources said SpiceJet saved around 350kg of fuel on the return flight as it flew over Hindon and Saharanpur restricted airspace with prior defence permission.

“We welcome the FUA initiative. Once institutionalised, this will be a win-win-win: Less fuel consumption and emissions, lower fuel bills for airlines, and shorter flying time for passengers,” said Sanjiv Kapoor, COO, SpiceJet.

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