Bowing down to pressure from airlines and the air traffic controllers (ATCs), the Mumbai airport operator has stopped the two-hour runway repairs during the morning and evening peak hours.
A Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) spokesperson said, “It was a pro-active move to ease congestion.” But, airport sources claim that airlines were not happy with the operator’s previous stand to open the full runway to only three foreign airlines.
The problem began on September 23, after MIAL shut a 340-metre stretch on one end of the main runway for widening work of an underground drain and expansion of taxiways. However, MIAL agreed to suspend the work during flight arrivals of Singapore Airlines, Saudi Airlines and Continental.
The airlines were given the privilege, as they do not use the secondary runway citing safety risks as a policy. Also, only the main runway is equipped with the Instrument Landing System (ILS), a ground-based instrument approach system, which guides an approaching aircraft using a combination of radio signals and, in many cases, high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing during reduced visibility.
Until now, MIAL would halt work, clear the runway and activate the ILS on ATC’s instructions every time a flight operated by any of these three airlines was about to land.
On September 28, ATC officials expressed their displeasure about the procedure in a meeting with the MIAL management. “Other airlines could have accused us of favouring select foreign carriers,” said a senior ATC official.
Also, due to the curtailed main runway, other airlines using the runway had to cut down their passenger and cargo carrying capacity. City-bound flights had to spend more time circling the airport because of the partial runway closure. For instance, on September 29, a Jet Airways flight from Bangkok scheduled to land 11 am — a lull period — had to hover above the airport for 30 minutes before landing.