Srinagar airport repairs likely to make travel costlier

Runway will be closed for air traffic after 3pm on three alternate Sundays of a month from Nov 4 to Mar 30

Flyers might have to pay more for travel because Srinagar airport would be closed for air traffic after 3pm thrice a month for next five months beginning November 4 for runway repairs.

This is another setback for air travel. Earlier, authorities shelved the plan to operate night flights from the airport.

At present, flights land at the airport till 5:30 pm during winter months.

A notice by the Airports Authority of India has informed several airlines that the airport would be closed on three alternate Sundays from 3pm till the sunrise the next day.

A manager of an airline, requesting anonymity, said the afternoon slot is crucial during winter because foggy mornings often disrupt flight timings. He said airlines were already disappointed because the proposed plan to allow night flights has been put on the backburner. 

“The decision to further reduce operational hours will hit flyers badly,” said the manager.  

Also, flight rush is the highest on Sundays, which makes fare rise inevitable, he said. This is also likely to hit winter tourist flow.

A few airlines have already cancelled the flights landing in Srinagar after 3pm on the scheduled Sundays.

The runway closure comes at a time when proposed night operations at the “international” airport failed to take-off as most of the airlines were not satisfied with safety norms at the airport. 

The airport was declared “technically suitable” for night flights after a “successful” trial run of a commercial aircraft during late evening hours. 

Three airlines— GoAir, IndiGo and Air India—had opted for the night flight slots, but their senior executives and pilots had told Greater Kashmir they had no immediate plans to start night operations.

Director Srinagar Airport Akash Deep Mathur said the runway maintenance is a time-consuming process, especially during winters. 

“The tarmac takes time to settle down after the maintenance works are undertaken. As of now we don’t see a major problem to the air traffic due the closure but in case we anticipate problems we will take it up with the Air Force,” Mathur said. Mathur said the closure of the runway is part of “temporary” works, as there is a proposal in a nascent stage to shut down operations at the airport completely for a few months for expansion work. 

Srinagar airport is under the direct operational control of the Indian Air Force (IAF), which controls its air traffic and landing strip and also the facilities of fire-fighting and crash activities, apart from the airspace.

The terminal building where the passengers arrive and depart, and the apron area where an aircraft is parked, are however controlled by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). 

The airport, surrounded by dozens of villages and fruit orchards, is spread over more than 65 acres of land. The expansion of the airport has been planned after the Union tourism ministry recommended its upgradation, stating that failure to upgrade its facilities would lead to “bad publicity for Kashmir tourism sector.”