Airport Closures could hurt Airlines in India

Airlines may see decrease in traffic as flights are cancelled or re-routed

If there is anything which can stop the worlds fast growing aviation market, it is infrastructure! The industry which could tide over effects of demonetization and could handle increased air fare without losing customers seems to be helpless when it comes to airport closures.

Various airports across the country, including Mumbai – the second busiest and Bengaluru are slated for closures starting few days from now.

Mumbai will see its main runway 09/27 closed for all operations between 0900hrs to 1700hrs from Monday to Saturday beginning 1st February 2017. The closure will last till 29th April 2017. During this time the secondary runway 14/32 will be available. This runway does not have full length parallel taxiway and thus reduces the number of movements per hour, drastically impacting the On Time Performance which is already at an all-time low. While December saw the airport report an On Time Performance of just 55%, a fair weather month like October saw 64% flights on time. These numbers are only for domestic operations and does not include the International flights.

Mumbai had seen complete closure of operations on two days each week between 18th October and 28th November 2016 to facilitate re-carpeting of the intersection of two runways. While the airport has two runways, they are not parallel and hence limits the simultaneous use.

Even curious is the case of Bengaluru airport which starts the closure from 19th February and will continue till 30th April to facilitate construction of additional Rapid exit taxiways (RET). The airport will be closed from 1030hrs to 1700 daily Interestingly this closure is for a longer duration than what it was in 2012, when the airport was closed for a month for 7 hours each day. The schedules of flights in Bengaluru will be affected during the biennial Aero India which will be held at nearby Yelahanka Air Force Station starting 14th February and ending on 18th February.

In 2012, the four-year-old runway was re-laid due to issues with the quality of its surface. The airport, which faces few foggy days each year delaying flights, neither went ahead with  dditional Rapid Exit Taxiways (RET) or installed Cat III Instrument Landing System (ILS) in 2012. Since Cat III ILS requires centre line runway lights which are absent at the moment, and this closure period will also not install them, the runway ILS will not be upgraded.

The press release by BIAL talks about potential to increase the runway movements to 48 per hour, a number which has not been met in commercial capital Mumbai which also has RETs in place. Thus this closure which will impact lakhs of passengers and affect hundreds of aircraft movements across the country, may not have significant impact in addition of capacity and could well turn out to be a long futile exercise.

BIAL, the airport operator for Bengaluru, has started work on the second runway and is slated for completion in late 2018 or early 2019. The current runway could again go for a closure to upgrade it to Cat III ILS. Effectively, significant increase in capacity at Bengaluru can be seen only post second half of 2019. It may have well been sensible to expedite the construction of the secondary runway and get the same operational at the earliest rather than go for such a closure. Fliers from Bengaluru will also be impacted due to Aero India 2017 which will lead to additional closure of airspace for around a week in February.

Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala will see its airport being closed on all days except Sunday from 1030hrs to 1715hrs. The closure started on 2nd January and will last till 31st March 2017.

Varanasi – the Prime Ministers constituency is likely to see a three months’ closure starting March which will last for 7 – 8 hours daily.

Last year Ahmedabad airport was proposed to be shut from April onwards till March 2017. However, the work was finished much earlier and the airport started with normal operations.  Trivandrum on the other hand was supposed to be shut for 3 months from October to December, which seems to have been pushed to 2017.

While many other airports will see progressive upgrades, major airports like Chennai & Kolkata which saw new terminals in recent past continue to hover around maximum runway movements, which reduces the ability of airlines to add new flights. Mumbai has stopped giving additional slots long back. Smaller cities like Guwahati & Patna, which has seen explosive growth in traffic are struggling to accommodate new flights due to limited terminal capacity.

The closure period will see most airlines re-route their flights. Most airlines have chosen Hyderabad as an alternative to Bengaluru and thus Hyderabad will see additional frequencies to Pune, Goa, Kochi, Kolkata, Chennai to name a few. Can any city take a sudden jump in capacity without decrease in airfare to stimulate traffic is what we would know few months down the line. Since most of the closures are in Q4 of the financial year, they could well affect the yields and revenue for the year.

The curious case of airports where runway, terminal and apron capacity not being in sync continues in India – right from the private greenfield airports.

Runway re-carpeting & airport closures could apply brakes on 20% growth of Indian Aviation

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