President inaugurates Shirdi airport: Experts say it can be used during emergency in Mumbai | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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President inaugurates Shirdi airport: Experts say it can be used during emergency in Mumbai

Aviation experts say Shirdi is closer to the city than Ahmedabad, which is used when flights coming to the city require diversion

mumbai Updated: Oct 01, 2017 22:16 IST
Neha LM Tripathi
President Ram Nath Kovind flags off inaugural flight from Shirdi to Mumbai on Sunday in the presence of governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao (extreme right) and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis (3rd from right).
President Ram Nath Kovind flags off inaugural flight from Shirdi to Mumbai on Sunday in the presence of governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao (extreme right) and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis (3rd from right). (PTI)

The airport at the pilgrim town of Shirdi, which was inaugurated by President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday, could be useful during an emergency at the Mumbai airport. The President landed at Shirdi at around 10 am from Delhi and inaugurated the airport at around 10.30am.

Aviation experts said Shirdi, which is about 250 kilometres from Mumbai, is closer to the city than Ahmedabad which is used when flights coming to Mumbai require diversion.

For instance, after heavy rains and an aircraft stuck on the main runway crippled Mumbai airport on September 19, flights coming to Mumbai were diverted to Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Vadodra. Though Shirdi can be used for an emergency, experts are of the opinion that the airport can be used as a diversion field only after it is equipped with more facilities.

Aviation expert and former pilot Vipul Saxena said that Shirdi airport is important for religious tourism and Airports Authority of India (AAI) must consider upgrading it in terms of manning by qualified Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) and day-night operations so that it can be used as diversionary airfield for Mumbai.

“In situation when the Navi Mumbai has been delayed and is not expected to be operational anytime soon, Shirdi airport can be at a later stage used to decongest Mumbai airport by shifting charter operations and also some of the traffic from Juhu airport. The airport has a potential commercial and strategic airport in future,” he added.

Pune’s airport, which is closer, is not useful in such situations.

An AAI official said, “Pune airport is a civil enclave (belonging to the armed force) where the air traffic is looked after by the Indian Air Force, and is owned by the AAI. Hence receiving permissions to land at the airport gets difficult due to security reasons. This does not allow majority of the flights to divert at Pune airport.”

The first flight

The first flight from Shirdi to Mumbai landed at around 11.15am on Sunday. Aircraft ATR 72 of Alliance Air will connect Mumbai with Shirdi every morning and afternoon. A 110-minute fight to Hyderabad will daily take off for Shirdi at 2.05pm and will return at 4.25pm.

Suresh Kakani, managing director of Maharashtra Airport Development Authority (MADC), which owns the Shirdi airport, said, “Apart from the mandatory requirements, we have a cloak room in the arrivals and a prasad counter in the departures to allow passengers to purchase Sai Baba’s Prasad while they wait for their flight.”

The flight schedules that were planned from October 27 were re worked after MADC requested the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to start commercial flight operations earlier. Alliance Air, a subsidiary of national carrier Air India, rescheduled its flight plans and started operating from Sunday. Zoom Air and TruJet are yet to commence their operations.

The airport is also equipped with an isolation bay to park aircraft during an emergency situations. This airport is expected to be equipped with night landing facilities in three months. This facility will allow flights to operate round the clock. The runway, which is 3200 metres long, is equivalent to Mumbai airport’s main runway, making it an ideal airfield to land large aircraft like Airbus A321 and Boeing 737 could land at Shirdi in an emergency situation.