Navy is reluctant to extend watch hours of the airport despite requests

“There isn’t much demand for 24/7 operations at the moment. Let the airline operators come with proposals, we can open the airport 24/7 at short notice”. This was the reply of Defence Minister A.K. Antony to the letter of Union Minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo more than three years ago, when the latter sought extension of watch hours at the airport.

Several months ago the additional manpower needed for round-the-clock operations was sanctioned and all the required facilities were put in place.

But even today the Navy, which takes care of the Air Traffic Control (ATC), seems reluctant to extend the watch hours despite receiving requests from both the domestic and international operators. The Navy instead of honouring its commitment of extending watch hours based on the demand, is now advising the airline operators to change their schedules so that the 24/7 operations, presently available thrice a week, are not ‘under utilised’.

“Airline carriers are shying away from Visakhapatnam due to this attitude of the Navy. The Air India flight to Dubai and the Silk Air direct flight to Singapore are getting very good patronage and more operators are evincing keen interest in operating from Vizag,” says Airport Advisory Committee Member O. Naresh Kumar.

Silk Air is awaiting approval of the Navy for operating an additional flight on Saturdays, starting November 23, this year, from Vizag. Responding to the letter of Union Minister D. Purandeswari, who represents Visakhapatnam in the Lok Sabha, Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, replied on June 30 that the duty crew remains underutilised post departure of the Silk Air flight at 10:55 p.m. on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, even though the airport is open 24 hours on those days. He suggested that new flights should be first programmed on those three days and the balance four days could be considered only after filling up of presently available slots.

“Silk Air cannot be asked to operate its additional service on those three days. The international carrier must have planned Saturday to cash in on the weekend rush. This is not all, Indigo wanted to operate a late night flight to Hyderabad at 8:55 p.m. but permission was declined. SpiceJet and Jet Airways have also extension of watch hours,” says Mr. Naresh Kumar.

Airline operators, both international and domestic, planning to fly from Vizag should not only consider their own commercial viability but also the optimum utilisation of airport manpower!

Flight cancelled

The cancellation of the SpiceJet flight from Chennai to Vizag and back on Saturday has put 121 passengers, who booked their tickets, to untold hardship. They included passengers coming to Vizag from Chennai and 54 going to Chennai. The airline was forced to cancel its Chennai – Vizag flight on Saturday as the Navy had reportedly declined permission to extend the watch hours, as the flight was delayed due to some problem. The airline had sought extension of the watch hours at Vizag Airport by two hours on Saturday in view of the delay in the schedule. Quoting the airline officials Airport Advisory Committee member Naresh Kumar said that the flight was cancelled in view of the Navy’s refusal to extend the watch hours. “The airline authorities have sought permission for extension of watch hours in view of the delay and I sent their request to the Navy for approval but I have not received any reply from them (Navy) in this regard,” Airport Director K. Srinivasa Rao told The Hindu when contacted.