The restrictions on the movement of commercial flights, proposed to be implemented with effect from November 1 to facilitate dedicated slots for the operation of military aircraft, are is sure to retard the growth of Visakhapatnam airport, the only international one in the State.
The enormous increase in the operation of military flying operations as a result of the growing training requirements of the Navy and the recent induction of fighter aircraft has led to the demand for dedicated flying slots for the military aircraft. At the same time, there has been a tremendous growth in the operation of commercial flights in view of the growing demand from passengers.
The Navy had initially planned to have dedicated military slots for five hours a day, five days a week besides two additional hours on two days every week and for runway maintenance on weekends. The Navy scaled it down to three hours, after an uproar from tour and travel operators, air travellers associations, industry and IT against the proposal.
Subsequently, at another meeting organised by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) in New Delhi on June 15, the Navy had agreed to have dedicated military slots between 9.30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. from Monday to Friday but proposed mixed flying (civilian and military flying) from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
This is not all, the Navy said though the existing flights would not be curtailed, military flights would be accorded priority and sought that no new flights be introduced during those two hours.
The immediate fallout of the decision was that Jet Airways, which had announced the operation of an evening from Vizag to Delhi, withdrew it from its website.
“The airline agreed to operate an evening flight to Delhi following intense lobbying by our association. The Jet Airways flight will come to Vizag from Mumbai at 8 p.m. and take off to Delhi at 8.30 p.m. This is very convenient to passengers from Vizag, who wish to take onward international connections to various destinations from Delhi,” says AP Air Travellers Association vice-president O. Naresh Kumar.
“The presence of an oil refinery of HPCL, and oil tanks in the vicinity of the airport does not make it a safe zone for any aircrew training operations. The Navy can utilise the airstrip, under development, at Badangi in Vizianagaram district and also construct another airstrip at Rambilli, where the Navy is already constructing a Naval Alternative Operating Base (NAOB) for its training requirements,” APATA noted in a memorandum submitted to the district Collector.
It’s learnt that SpiceJet, which has decided to operate a Vizag – Bangkok flight, thrice a week, from August 15, has withdrawn its plan. The airline has already recruited staff and had also informed the immigration officials at the airport. The plan was that the flight would take off from Vizag at 4.30 p.m. and reach Bangkok at 10.30 p.m.
Air India has plans to reschedule its Vizag–Dubai flight and it would mean a longer waiting time for passengers from Vizag in Hyderabad, according to a tour operator.
The proposed civilian airport at Bhogapuram, around 45 km from the city, will take at least five years for completion, even if work is commenced now.
“The limitations at the existing Visakhapatnam International Airport make it imperative for the development of the proposed airport at Bhogapuram”, the then Union Minister of Civil Aviation P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju had told in April 2015.
The whiff of a scam
“Had the AAI been awarded the tender, work would have started by now,” said an AAI official, who requested anonymity.
Though the State government had acquired land for construction of the Bhogapuram airport, it turned down the bid of the AAI for its construction in the past. Former Energy Secretary EAS Sarma had written to the Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in January, this year, on the ‘unambiguous bias displayed by the AP State Government against the AAI in evaluating the tenders for Bhogapuram airport.’
He requested the Civil Aviation Ministry to refer the matter to the CBI to ascertain the amount of illegal gratification, if any, that could have impacted such decisions, especially the decision to eliminate AAI.