Skies to open up for Pune

Pune, Nov 28 | Updated: Nov 29 2004, 05:30am hrs
Better air link to and from Pune could be a reality. Pune could soon have 24-hour flight facility from its existing airport and till the proposed international airport comes up, the existing defence airport at Lohegaon could function as an interim international airport, Union minister for civil aviation Praful Patel, said.

The plans to set up an international airport at Chakan has not made much headway since the idea was floated in 2000. But Mr Patel said, the in-principle clearance could come in early 2005 with tendering process starting in mid-2005 and project completion by end 2005. It will be funded through private investments. He expects the Pune International Airport to be a Rs 2,000 crore project.

Till then, he said the existing airport could be used for 24 hour flight service and international flights can operate from here which could call for expansion of the existing infrastructure. He said he had a meeting with the air chief and appraised him about the plans and was hopeful of getting the restrictions on Lohegaon airport removed. The modalities for the airport expansion and cost sharing had to be worked out, he said, adding the Airports Authority is willing to share development costs.

The international airport proposal was finalized by a committee headed by former Union cabinet secretary BG Deshmukh with MIDC as the nodal agency. Pune industry has been demanding a new airport as the existing airport is not able to cope with growing traffic. It also cannot accommodate more aeroplanes. Pune handles close to 50,000 passengers a month. But the connectivity from the city is poor with limited flights to big cities.

The airport is operated by the Air Force Station, Lohegaon, which is home to Indias strike aircraft, Sukhoi-30 MKI and is of strategic importance to the airforce. So a lot of time restrictions have been imposed by the IAF-manned Air Traffic Control. Civilian flights are allowed to operate only after 7.30 am. No landings or take-offs are allowed after 8 pm. This had made new investors bypass Pune and look at other destinations like Bangalore and Hyderabad. But with Pune picking up as the destination for BPOs an urgent need is being felt to improve air connectivity.