The one at Puducherry has well-manicured lawns and litter-free walkways

An airport may be the last place on earth to find a spot of peace.

But, with its litter-free walkways, well-manicured lawns and an almost ashram-like calm, you could open a meditation room at the Puducherry airport and it would still blend in nicely with the setting these days.

It is five months since the only carrier that volunteered to operate Bangalore-Puducherry flights, SpiceJet, wound up its services citing losses.

SpiceJet experience

For tourists, both international and domestic, weekend revellers and officials, the deal was good while it lasted.

Launching its service on January 17, 2013, SpiceJet flew passengers on 70-seater Q 400 Bombardier aircraft between here and Bangalore in 50 minutes.

If you booked well in advance — as groups of students of a posh neighbourhood school reportedly did periodically — you could fly to Bangalore for as cheap as about Rs. 2000-Rs. 2,500 per trip. As demand peaked on Fridays, the fare shot up to Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000.

SpiceJet gradually scaled up its services from thrice a week to four days a week after the1,500-metre runway was certified fit to handle flights with full passenger loads, but simultaneously began to demand compensation at rates much higher than half the fare costs for each vacant seat on a flight — an untenable proposition for a cash-strapped government.

“If one were to analyse the passenger traffic over the year the carrier operated, the average passenger volume on a day of operation for 2013 was a healthy 73.05,” an official said.

'“This is much better than some short haul airline routes,” he said.

Befuddling ways

To those outside the loop of SpiceJet’s top management, the carrier’s counter-intuitive ways would have been befuddling. Here was an airline scaling up its frequency — at one point flying six days a week — but also citing operational losses.

Finally, the airline called it quits and the last Bombardier flight was operated on January 31, 2014.

The reason trotted out at that time was that though the occupancy rate had gone up steadily, the airline management was yet to make break even on the sector.

However, even when the flights were in operation, it made little difference for bureaucrats headed for Delhi, as driving down to Chennai was the better option.

“The Ministry of Home did grant an exemption to the rule that government officials only fly the national carrier for the Puducherry-Bangalore sector to facilitate officials headed onward to Delhi.

However, the catch was that there were no convenient onward connecting flight on the national carrier from Bangalore,” an official said. “We are in talks with Air Asia and other carriers with ATR fleets to resume air connectivity which is so crucial for promoting the place as a tourist destination,” said K. K. Singh, Managing Director, Puducherry Tourism Development Corporation.

Can take months

However, resumption of flights could take several months given the maze of modalities to be gone through.

“We have made provisions for single circuit lighting to facilitate night landing which the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has to approve,” said K. Gunasekaran, Airport Director who manages the 175-acre oasis of calm under the custody of the Airports Authority of India.

Authorities have also identified a 2,500 sq m space to put up an ATF refilling station. “There have been enquiries from carriers with smaller aircraft if they could fill up and berth aircraft here as Chennai is turning too congested,” he said.

But, the real bottleneck in Puducherry airport’s future plans is the 220 acres of land it needs to extend the runway and set up navigational facilities for operations of wide-bodied aircraft.

And, the solution is out of its hands, as Tamil Nadu owns the coveted property.

According to Raj Nivas sources, Lieutenant Governor Virendra Kataria is planning to use his rapport with Tamil Nadu Governor K. Rosaiah to facilitate a discussion with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Friday.


AAI help sought to revive airportJuly 9, 2014

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