For once, the carpet is being rolled out after the visit by a dignitary.
Days after civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain signalled a Rs 150 crore makeover for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has started preparing the ground to “re-carpet” (relay and repair) the main tarmac and improve several features, including a “world-class” cargo terminal.
The airport’s upgradation to Category II — including a more sophisticated approach system, runway lights and the Instrumental Landing System (ILS) — however, is expected to throw flight schedules out of gear once the project begins.
“Our engineers are going to start on the project very soon and that, unfortunately, is going to lead to a change in schedule for some time,” AAI director Roshan Lal said on Monday. “We are currently working on the shift timings and the roster is being prepared to ensure that a major rescheduling and disruption of flights is avoided as far as possible,” he added.
The “re-carpeting” of the main runway will be carried out in three phases over a year, officials said. The first two phases will concentrate on the two ends of the runway and the final phase will involve taking a closer look at the central stretch.
Calcutta airport has two runways, say officials. The main one is 12,000 feet long and has the required “strength” and manoeuvring space necessary for bigger aircraft, like the Airbus-300s and 330s and Boeing-747s, to land.
The second runway is 7,000 feet long and is fit to handle only smaller craft, like the Boeing-320s. “It is not wide enough for the bigger and heavier aircraft,” a senior AAI official admitted.
Pilots say a runway suffers wear and tear due to three factors: tyre deposits of the aircraft, burning of the tarmac because of the friction-induced heat and partial subsidence owing to the landing of heavy craft. Runways, therefore, have to be re-carpeted every 10 years or so.
Pilots, however, appeared more excited about the upgradation to the Category II landing system, that would afford better visibility during take-off and landing. This, explains Captain N.K. Basu, senior pilot, would result in far fewer cancellations due to poor visibility.
The runway visual range — the distance a pilot can see after the touchdown — is 350 metres for the Category II system (instead of the 500 metres in the older Category I system); the minimum necessary height to decide on touchdown also reduces to 100 feet from 200 feet in the newer system.
All this, say pilots, means one thing: they can take off and touch down during days when the visibility is poorer. But there is a test ahead for them and their planes. Pilots and all members of the crew will have to undergo a special training to adapt to the new-generation technology; aircraft, too, will have to be made compatible to the system.
AAI records say about 100 aircraft land and take off from the airport every day.