As flyers express discontent, IAF says Pune airport closure was ‘inescapable’

Under criticism for shutting down Pune’s Lohegaon airport for 14 days starting October 16, IAF said the move was “inescapable” and airline officials were informed about tentative dates in advance
Under criticism for shutting down Pune’s Lohegaon airport for 14 days starting October 16, IAF said the move was “inescapable” and airline officials were informed about tentative dates in advance. (HT FILE)
Under criticism for shutting down Pune’s Lohegaon airport for 14 days starting October 16, IAF said the move was “inescapable” and airline officials were informed about tentative dates in advance. (HT FILE)
Published on Oct 07, 2021 01:15 AM IST
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ByJigar Hindocha

PUNE Under criticism for shutting down Pune’s Lohegaon airport for 14 days starting October 16, in the middle of the festive season and on very short notice, the Indian Air Force (IAF), on Wednesday, said the move was “inescapable” and airline officials were informed about tentative dates in advance.

According to an announcement, Lohegaon airport, which is currently only operating during the day, since will remain completely shut from October 16-29, due to the runway being re-carpeted. The 14-day complete closure was earlier planned from April 26 till May 9, but had to be deferred.

In its statement IAF said, “To address the issue of the rapidly deteriorating condition of the runway and associated operating surfaces at Air Force Station Pune, runway resurfacing was an urgent requirement. The aim is to prevent any damage to engines of operating aircraft.”

“Partial closure of the runway was undertaken at Pune for a period of 12 hours daily during the night, to cause least possible disturbance to civil aviation for a period of one year from October 26 2020 to October 25 2021, during which time the work progressed.

According to IAF, the earlier announcement of closure in April had to be deferred as the Ministry of Defence asked for the postponement to avoid disruption of Covid-19 vaccine supply. “Due to the emergent requirement for transportation of Covid vaccines, the Ministry of Defence had directed us to defer the complete closure of the runway,” the IAF said.

“The work of resurfacing, other than the central flexible portion of the runway is nearing completion. To ensure timely availability of runway post resurfacing, complete closure of 14 days is inescapable and was planned in the 3rd and 4th week of October. The tentative period of closure was intimated to all airline operators, local Airport Director and Airports Authority of India CHQ, well in advance. However, the exact dates of closure could be promulgated only after the requisite approvals were obtained from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Defence. As per the present plan, flight operations would resume from October 30, 2021, before Diwali festival,” said the IAF statement, which came against the backdrop of severe criticism from flyers.

Sudhir Mehta, chief managing director, Pinnacle Industries, and president of Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industries & Agriculture, said in a tweet: “The closure of the Pune airport by the air force for 15 days with just 10 days notice could have been avoided, especially when so many vaccines are being transported . While the city shares the airport with the air force, it’s ultimately a national asset.”

Currently, 55 flights are operating daily and daily footfall crossed the 10,000 mark recently. Before first Covid wave, 170 flights used to operate from the city airport.

Siddharth Shirole, BJP MLA from Shivajinagar said, “There should have been proper communication from the Airport authority. They should have informed of it in advance to avoid last moment confusion.”

Amit Paranjape, chairperson, IT & ITES Committee, Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA) in his tweet said, “Better support from the Center as well over the past two decades (and even today) would help. Everyone knows what the short term and long term solutions are... But no political leadership being seen on the ground at any level. Pune continues to suffer.”

The IAF meanwhile clarified that during closure days, vaccines will be airlifted from Pune to Mumbai by deploying suitable IAF assets to ensure uninterrupted supply.

Aviation analyst Dhairyasheel Vandekar, formerly in-charge of the Air India station in Pune, said, “Authorities should have kept plan-B ready in advance which could have helped the flyers.”

“Some options should be finalised by airport authorities and airlines to connect flights with Mumbai airport and Shirdi Airport. Finding a slot should not be an issue as Mumbai airport is not running to 100 per cent strength and Shirdi airport also had many slots available,” he said.

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Monday, December 06, 2021