Thursday, August 12, 2021

How the upgraded Shirdi airport will boost travel

Mumbai: Shirdi, the temple town 238 km north-east of Mumbai best known as being where Sai Baba attained samadhi, has recently seen a major infrastructure upgrade. The town’s international airport has been transformed by the lengthening of its runway from 2.5 km to 3.2 km to accommodate wide-bodied passenger jets, and the addition of night landing facilities. These upgrades will improve passenger movement through Shirdi, increasing the pace at which devotees arrive and leave. Before the national lockdown, around 60,000 devotees used to visit the Sai Baba temple each day, most making a point to attend the 5 am kakad arti. As there were earlier no night flights, devotees would have to stay overnight.

The Sai Baba temple in town is still closed due to the pandemic. State government officials say that once it reopens, about 20 per cent of daily devotees will be able to fly in and out on a single day. The airport was inaugurated by President Ram Nath Kovind in October 2017, the centenary year of Sai Baba’s samadhi. This year, the Maharashtra Aviation Development Company (MADC)—a special purpose vehicle—has worked through the lockdown to expand the runway, following the temple being closed in January after the spike in Covid-19 cases in the state’s Ahmednagar district. “We have completed all the requisite tests. Shirdi airport is ready to welcome big planes now,” says Deepak Kapoor, managing director of MADC. He says the idea was to utilise the lockdown period to upgrade the airport. Earlier, as the runway was small, airlines could only operate smaller planes, like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.

Another way this will boost travel into and out of Shirdi is the economic consequence of using larger planes. Aviation fuel is a major cost for airlines, meaning that it is more expensive to fly smaller planes. With the ability to handle larger planes, airlines will be able to take advantage of economies of scale, increasing the commercial appeal of flights to and from Shirdi. As a result, the MADC expects more flights, and therefore, travellers, to the town following the runway upgrades.

Similarly, the night landing facilities will also boost travel—the MADC has received permission from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security for night landings at Shirdi airport. “We have completed the lighting system and the underground cabling,” says Kapoor. “Now, we are waiting for installation of instruments by the IMD (India Meteorological Department).” As per Indian Aviation Law, only the IMD has the authority to install instruments required for night landings at airports. Kapoor says the Director General of IMD has written him informing him that it has given priority to this work, and that it will begin soon.

12/08/21 Kiran Tare/India Today

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