‘Indifference’ of the Navy to launch 24/7 operations or extend watch hours worries industry watchers

The reported indifference of the Defence Ministry and the Navy to open up the Visakhapatnam airport for 24/7 operations is coming in the way of its growth. The infrastructure needed has been in place for over a couple of years now and the manpower required has been sanctioned nearly a year ago. SilkAir has plans to increase the frequency of its Vizag – Singapore flight from three to four times in a week from November this year. The decision to increase the frequency in less than a year of commencing operations indicates the success of the first-ever non-stop direct flight to Singapore.

The decision sounds like music to ears of air travellers from Visakhapatnam. But, is the Navy ready to open up the airport 24/7 or at least extend the watch hours? This is the million dollar question that is worrying industry watchers, air travellers’ associations, and ministers alike.

They seem to have every reason to think so, given the reluctance of the Defence Ministry and the Navy to extend the watch hours.

It may be recalled that the failure of the Navy to extend the watch hours, contrary to assurances, had led to the SilkAir postponing its launch in the past. Similarly, passengers coming by the Dubai – Visakhapatnam Air India flight via Hyderabad, are being forced to waste their time in Hyderabad.

Domestic operators were also forced to change their schedules in the past. Recently, Jet Airways had sought permission to revise the timings of its Kolkata-Vizag-Bangalore-Mumbai flight to leave Visakhapatnam at 8.20 p.m. instead of 7.40 p.m. with effect from August 10.

The Navy is believed to have declined to extend the watch hours, forcing the airline to operate as per its old schedule.

Similarly, Air India is said to have sought permission to operate a morning flight to Chennai at 7.40 a.m.

Airport Director K. Srinivasa Rao confirmed it and said he had written to the Navy seeking extension of the watch hours and a reply was awaited. He admitted that 24/7 operations were required to bring in more flights. Visakhapatnam has immense potential to meet the international travel requirements of passengers from the region. The bifurcation of the State, which now seems to be a matter of time, makes 24/7 operation all the more important to develop the airport as an alternative to the Hyderabad airport for international operations, say air travellers.

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