HT Spotlight | Chandigarh ‘international’ airport not yet ready for global connectivity
Overseas flights to popular destinations in UK, US or Canada get the short shrift due to a narrow runway at the airport. Though the Indian Air Force has started working on a modernisation project, it will take at least two years to upgrade the runway and put in place state-of-the-art landing equipment; airlines waiting for construction work schedule.punjab Updated: Jul 11, 2017 11:17 IST
If you think direct flights to US, UK, Canada or even Australia will soon be a reality from Chandigarh International Airport by the virtue of its ‘international’ tag, think again. The airport is still not ready for global connectivity primarily due to the short runway, which has been awaiting expansion for long.
Long-haul aircrafts needed to fly overseas are wide bodied, have greater length, and therefore need more ground space during landing and departure. But the Chandigarh airport’s current length of 9,000 feet is suitable only for handling narrow-bodied crafts that at best can fly travelers to mid-range destinations.
Indigo, for instance, is operating the Chandigarh-Dubai flight through narrow bodied Airbus A320, which can’t fly on routes beyond 3000 km. Boeing 737-800 series aircraft flying between Chandigarh and Sharjah route also fall in the category of small twin jet airliners.
“Given the current length of the runway, Chandigarh can at best connect to Bangkok, Colombo, or Singapore sectors, for which efforts are underway,” said an airport official.
EXPANSION PENDING SINCE 2008
What the airport needs is an addition of 1,400 feet to the existing length of the runway to accommodate wide-bodied aircrafts such as Airbus A 330 or Boeing B787 or B 777 that fly on routes to US or Europe.
The extension of the runway to the required 10,400 feet is pending ever since the new international terminal was mooted in 2008.
The onus of lengthening the runway falls on the Indian Air Force thanks to the unique way in which the Chandigarh airport has been structured. While the airport’s terminal is manned by the Airport Authority of India, its airfield operations fall under the jurisdiction of IAF’s 12 wing station that not only operates its own sorties here, but also handles commercial traffic.
Even though the new terminal building has been made operational, the airfield has not been able to keep pace with the demand for a longer runway and a better landing system. The IAF continues to maintain restricted watch hours and does not allow flights to operate after 10 pm due to staff shortage.
UPGRADE WITHOUT AFFECTING TRAFFIC
A senior official with IAF’s local station, however, told HT that work to modernise the airstrip has begun under the 400-crore defence ministry’s Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) project. Under phase 1,
He informed that the initial phase of the construction has begun where the contractor has been arranging all his logistics before starting the ground construction
“This project will take nearly 18 to 24 months to complete. A detailed construction schedule is being finalised and will be released soon,” said the IAF officer.
However, local hospitality industry wants that the upgradation should not affect the existing traffic.
A Zirakpur based hotelier GS Virk said that if the airport is made to close during the daytime in light of modernisation work, it will then kill the growing enthusiasm among airlines and the travlers.
“Many airlines have put their expansion plans on hold just because they are waiting for the construction schedule, which they want to take place mostly during night. If that does not happen, we will not see new flights starting to Bangkok or Singapore. Even domestic traffic will be severely hit,” he said
ONE MORE RUNWAY PROPOSED
The airport will also have new parallel runway for which defence and civil aviation ministries have already given its nod. But the centre’s nod is awaited on the acquisition. The new runway will have CAT-IIIB facility.
The old runway would remain CAT-II compliant, which can help in operations during shallow fog conditions during winter.
Currently, flights are suspended if the visibility at the airstrip drops below 1200 metres because the CAT-1 level landing system is very basic and does not help the pilots navigate well.
Long & short of it
Eurocontrol, an international organisation working to achieve safe and seamless air traffic management, defines medium-haul as a destination that is between 1,500 and 4,000 km away. The distance to long-haul routes is more than 4,000 km.
24 hour operation
While the runway length is a crucial factor in starting long-haul flights, the airport needs 24-hour operation, which is possible only once IAF lifts the ban on limited watch hours. An airport official hopes that the watch hours will be relaxed once the airfield modernisation work is completed
(Part-II of a special series by Hindustan Times on Chandigarh airport)