The Telegraph
Wednesday , June 18 , 2014
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Jumbo plans fail, fliers suffer

The government and its various agencies bicker. Fliers like you and me pay the price.

This, in short, is the story of the Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport in Patna — the facility does little to honour the great man it is named after.

Lack of consensus between the Bihar government and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) — which works under the Union civil aviation ministry — over the years on either extending the runway or shifting the airport to a new location does not only force the airlines to operate under “risky” conditions, but also keeps adding to the woes of fliers in different forms.

The brunt of the short runway curse at the city airport was yet again borne by hundreds of fliers during the past two days after the directorate-general of civil aviation restricted GoAir and IndiGo airlines to fly their aircraft with full passenger load.

Hundreds of passengers faced sudden cancellation of tickets due to the strict stand taken by DGCA — which regulates civil aviation in India — after it found that both airlines were violating load penalty norms for around a fortnight.

According to the load penalty norms applicable at airports with short runways, the operators have to reduce the weight of aircraft by leaving around 20 per cent of the seats vacant or offload cargo items. This, so that the necessary engine thrust is available for smooth take-off when the temperature is high, usually 40 degrees Celsius or above.

On the sidelines of the load penalty “heat” being faced by fliers, The Telegraph revisits the various issues that have been affecting air operations from Patna:

Location constraint

At present, the Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport, which is marked as one of the most critical airports of the country due to its short runway and obstructions in approach funnel, is spread over 52 acres of land. Against the total runway length of 2,286m (7,500 feet), only 1,954m (6409 feet) remains available at the time of take-off because of locational constraint of the airport.

It is due to the short length of runway here that the DGCA had held back the operating licence of the airport on June 30, 2012, and an application from AAI in this regard is still pending.

Apparently, there is little scope for extending the runway as it is constrained by Peer Ali Path (Airport road) on the northern side and the Delhi-Howrah railway line on the southern side.

Talking to The Telegraph on this issue, Captain Deepak Kumar Singh, director (operation)-cum-chief pilot, directorate of civil aviation, said: “It is not possible to extend the runway from either side. Even if we extend the runway on the airport road then also the old secretariat tower would come in the approach funnel for flights landing/ taking off from the eastern side. Regarding the southern side on the other hand, the Indian Railways had in the very first meeting rejected our proposal of making an underground track for the Delhi-Howrah railway line at Phulwarisharif to facilitate expansion of runway from that side.”

Site for new airport

The talks regarding setting up of an alternative airport have been in the air for quite some time but no concrete steps have been taken. Interestingly, the state urban development and housing department has proposed to set up the new airport for the city at Punpun under the upcoming master plan for Patna.

“As per the draft of the master plan for Patna Metropolitan Region, the new airport is proposed to be developed at Punpun. We have chosen this location for the new airport as it is not very far from the existing airport — approximately 10km — and there would not be too many issues vis-ΰ-vis land acquisition as well. The Centre has been asking for quite some time to provide land location for the new airport. Once the master plan is approved, the state government would send a proposal regarding selection of Punpun for the same to the Centre,” said Samrat Chaudhary, minister of state, urban development and housing department.

Apart from Punpun, Nalanda and Bihta have also been in the race for being the prospective sites for development of the alternative airport.

If the new airport is to be developed at Bihta airbase, which is around 35km southwest of Patna, the government would have to provide around 1,000 acres of land in addition to the existing land on which the airbase in located. Bihta airbase has availability of 2,449m (7,970 feet approx) of runway as well. In case of Nalanda, the state government would have to provide 4,800 acres of land.

Money matters

The cost of land acquisition has been the bone of contention between the AAI and the state government in all matters related to either expansion of the existing airport or setting up the alternative airport.

For instance, the issue over transfer of 6.37 acres of land belonging to Special Task Force (STF) located on the western side of the Patna airport continues to remain unresolved despite the state cabinet giving its nod for its transfer to AAI on January 15, 2013. AAI had refused to buy this land by paying Rs 114.66 crore as fixed as its cost by the state government.

“As per the general policy in practice across the country, state governments usually give the land and AAI spends money for developing the requisite infrastructure. We were expecting the same in case of Patna airport but the state government left us disappointed,” said a senior official of AAI.

A similar tussle might be witnessed in case of development of an alternative airport in Punpun also as minister Chaudhary has said that a decision would be taken in due course of time regarding who would bear the land acquisition cost.