Delhi dumps city runway - Centre lifts a hurdle, cites another

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By Staff Reporter in Calcutta
  • Published 27.02.08

Calcutta, Feb. 27: Civil aviation minister Praful Patel today discounted the possibility of a third runway in Calcutta but held out a crumb by announcing that the delayed modernisation of the airport would begin in April.

“Let the second runway extension be completed first. There cannot be a third runway as there is no availability of land,” Patel said.

“If land is available, we can have a new airport rather than another runway,” the minister added by way of explanation, though he had already ruled out the need for such an additional facility near the city.

The airport modernisation will lose much of its utility without the third runway because of resultant congestion. By 2010, when the modernisation is expected to be complete, the number of flights using the airport is expected to grow four-fold.

Patel’s comments today signalled a reversal of his ministry’s earlier stand that instead of a second airport in the city, Dum Dum should have a third runway.

The chief minister was in favour of a second greenfield airport in the suburbs. But Patel had felt Dum Dum was enough to handle flights to and from the city. His ministry officials had mooted another runway in addition to the existing two at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport.

Patel and the state government had differences earlier but his latest pronouncements are in line with the Manmohan Singh government’s reported policy of not going out of its way to help the Left Front government in Bengal.

“We had sent a proposal to the state government, seeking 1,900 acres near the airport. But there has been no response,” a senior airport official told The Telegraph today. According to sources, the state government did not want to “burn its fingers” by acquiring land after Nandigram.

“There is problem in extending the secondary runway as the Narayanpur road passes through the airport area,” the official pointed out.

As an alternative, the secondary runway is being stretched by 450 metres towards the other side where there is a mosque.

The two existing runways of the airport are separated by only 210 metres, which makes simultaneous flight operations impossible. For parallel operations, a minimum separation of 710 metres is required. The deficiency often causes delays during peak hours and when flights start to take off after fog.

“The narrow gap restricts take-offs from Calcutta airport to 40 flights an hour. If there was another runway, it could have been 80,” an airport official said.

In keeping with the central policy of not burning the bridges completely, the civil aviation minister said work on modernisation would start in April. “Last night, I cleared the files and tenders will be floated soon,” said Patel.

Although the project is scheduled to be complete in two years, the work, supposed to begin in January, has already been delayed.

Private flights to Pak

Private airlines from India will be allowed to operate to Pakistan, Patel said. Till now, only national carrier Air India could fly to the neighbouring country.