“Empty counters and over 5,000 people waiting to clear immigration at 5 am,” read a tweet by a passenger stuck at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport on Thursday morning. While a long wait at immigration counters is a chronic woe for city fliers, no respite from the manpower crunch has enraged passengers.
Sources in the civil aviation ministry said the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) wrote another note to the union home ministry last month, asking it to appoint officers to man empty immigration counters. A report on angry fliers’ reactions on the airport’s social media channel was attached.
“The Mumbai airport had red-flagged the staff crunch in 2013,” said a senior ministry official requesting anonymity. He added this was obvious as its newest terminal T2 opened in February, a year later.
The X-shaped terminal has more than 140 immigration counters divided between the arrivals and departure level. Frequent fliers said more than half are unmanned.
“More than 100 immigration counters but only 20-odd working at the Mumbai airport. Children standing in the queue for two hours,” tweeted Vineet Minocha, a passenger, on Thursday morning.
“Five hours to travel from Mauritius to Mumbai, three hours to clear immigration at Mumbai airport,” Pratik Gandhi, another passenger wrote on Twitter on July 19.
On December 7, 2013, HT had reported that T2 could face a shortage of immigration officers after MIAL sent a last-minute request for 393 additional immigration officers in November, citing an increase in counters from 81 to 142.
The deputy commissioner of police, Supriya Patil Yadav, who heads the foreign regional registration office in-charge of immigration admitted the shortage but said that counting empty counters was not the right yardstick to assess the problem. “Immigration counters have been built keeping in mind the passenger growth projections for the next five years. Manpower cannot be increased accordingly.”
She added that there were adequate immigration officers but peak hours see long queues owing to “bunching of flights”. “I cannot share the status of new appointments at the moment as I am on leave till early August,” she said.
However, industry projections show that the city airport is almost packed to its capacity. It entered the big league of busy world airports by catering to 41.7 million passengers in 2015-16. A report released by aviation think tank Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA India) last November projected that by 2018-19, CSIA’s capacity would be filled to the brim with 48 million fliers in a year. Until last year, the city airport had filled more than three-fourth of its capacity - the highest among metro airports in India along with Chennai, the report added. Even Delhi, the country’s busiest airport has utilised only 41% of its capacity.