Defence airstrips may open to commercial use

Written by Shaheen Mansuri | Mumbai, Dec 26 | Updated: Dec 27 2007, 05:30am hrs
Some 30 defence airstrips may soon be opened up for commercial traffic, helping to reduce congestion at existing airports. After conducting a techno-feasibility study at the defence airstrip in Chennai recently, the civil aviation ministry now wants to extend the concept of flexi airspace across the country.

Under the flexi airspace concept, whereby defence airstrips can also double up as commercial airports, a techno-feasibility study is carried out at a particular defence airport to evaluate whether the airstrip could be used to handle commercial traffic.

AK Chopra, joint director-general, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, told FE, The civil aviation ministry has started consultations with the defence ministry to carry out an exercise similar to that in Chennai at other defence airports. Once we get technical clearance from various defence agencies, the airstrips can be used for commercial traffic.

The motive behind such a study is to decongest major airports, including those in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, that are reeling under heavy traffic following the proliferation of low-cost airlines. Six more airlines have applied for licences with the DGCA, which will only add to the existing chaos.

If these airstrips can be used for commercial traffic, they can handle nearly 70 million passengers annually, says an AAI official, adding that a similar technical study would be carried out at an old defence airstrip in Thane and Pune soon. Indias airports handle an estimated 300 million passengers annually, and this figure is going up by 30% every year.

The AAI official added that during the techno-feasibility study, the ability of defence runways to take heavier commercial aircraft is evaluated, as also scrutiny of whether other facilities and support services can be utilised for commercial operations.