From next month, travellers using Mumbai airport should prepare themselves to wait a long time for their flights as the airport is set to begin its three-month long closure of the main airstrip.
From February 1, the airport operator will shut the main runway and repair its surface from 9am to 5pm. The main air strip handles around 800 take-offs and landings daily.
The last time such a repair was undertaken was in October 2016 when the airstrip was shut for around 40 days.
“Although the smaller runway will be available, delays are invariable as it does not have the capacity to handle as many flights at the same point of time as the main runway,” said a senior air traffic control (ATC) official requesting anonymity. He added, “Also, the schedules of flights operated by twin-aisle jumbo aircraft will be revised as it cannot land on the smaller runway.”
Spot fares may also go up as the airport is likely to cut down daily operations by approximately 70-80 flights. “Assuming that a domestic flight has 180 seats, reducing the number of flights would mean that compared to the current scenario, daily 15,000 passengers will not be able to book a seat for themselves,” said a senior executive with an industry think tank. The official added that the shortage of availability of seats could spike fares for people booking flights closer to the date of journey.
The Mumbai airport — India’s second busiest — had cancelled 2,100 flights during its last runway repair period. The closure may hurt leisure travellers as the period partially overlaps summer vacations.
“Many schools break for summer vacation around April 10 and families immediately set off for holidays. But nobody likes to begin a vacation with a long wait at the airport,” said a Colaba-based travel operator. The travel agent added that most of such family holidays are packaged tours. “Even a small flight delay could lead to a family missing their connecting flight and eventually lose a day’s hotel stay and sightseeing.”
For an airport like this which does not have space to add runways, unlike the one in Delhi, such repair works will become more frequent.