Monday, May 14, 2018

UDAN flights have 80 per cent occupancy, we are on right track: Suresh Kakani

Sixteen years into its formation, the Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation (MADC) that developed the Shirdi airport is striding ahead with the completion  of the Purandar airport in Pune and MIHAN in Nagpur. As the nodal agency to implement the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), Vice-Chairman and Managing Director SURESH KAKANI tells Indian Express about the challenges ahead.

In 2016, the state claimed that at least 10 airports would be functional under UDAN within a year. But only three airports are completely functional now.

Under UDAN phase-I, five airports were required to get connected from Maharashtra – Nanded, Jalgaon, Nashik, Solapur and Kolhapur. We co-ordinate between different agencies which own the airports, including the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation, Airports Authority of India and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The Nanded airport is connected to Amritsar, Mumbai and Hyderabad at present. Jalgaon and Nashik are connected with Pune and Mumbai. The passenger load is more than 80 per cent across routes. We are unable to start Kolhapur airport due to technical reasons while legal cases are still pending for Solapur airport. In the second phase, five airports will be functional (Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Amravati, Gondia and Solapur) for which bidding process is on.

In UDAN, concerns were raised over giving lowest bidders a chance to operate on a route, which later cause delays in starting services on such routes. Both TruJet and Air Deccan faced this issue at Nanded and Nashik, respectively. What are the teething problems in UDAN?

Before bids are opened for the routes, the government takes into consideration both technical and financial qualifications of the airlines. TruJet is successfully operating on the Nanded-Hyderabad route and Alliance Air is also seeing good response on the Amritsar-Nanded route. If airlines are facing technical issues, it is their concern and beyond our control.

In India, aviation is growing at 20 per cent annually, which means there is enough demand for air services. But the number of narrow body aircraft is not adequate. Private airlines which did not see the need to buy smaller aircraft are placing orders now. This can accommodate the increased growth. There is a growing aspiration for air travel. It will take time to reach maximum efficiency level. If flights are seeing more than 80 per cent occupancy, we are on the right track.

What are the plans for Shirdi airport? Has MADC recovered the costs?

At present, we have one Mumbai-Shirdi flight daily. As it is not classified under UDAN, the tickets are fetching us a good price as the passenger load is close to 90 per cent. If we can increase the number of flights, more people can fly to Shirdi, visit the temple and return the same day. We aim to provide night landing facilities at Shirdi airport soon. So if someone wants to see the aarti at the temple at 4 am, we can have suitable flight timings. Also, Mumbai and Delhi airports can provide us slots in the late-night hours as there is not much air traffic then. As far as rate of return is concerned, the investment has been immense. We have invested close to Rs 300 crore on Shirdi airport. Within the next five-seven years, we will recover the costs.

How much has MADC invested in developing airports in Maharashtra?

We have invested close to Rs 300 crore on developing Shirdi airport. We are spending as much as Rs 75 crore on the greenfield airport at Amravati. Land is already there and a part of the infrastructure is ready but we need to make it operational. For Nagpur airport, the investment will be close to Rs 1,600 crore, which will be on a PPP basis. The state will rope in a private player, which will invest the money and operate the airport. We will also pump some funds for Purandar airport in Pune, which will be a game-changer.
14/05/18 Neha Kulkarni/Indian Express