President Ramnath Kovind is scheduled to launch the Saibaba Samadhi Shatabdi Mahotsav (centenary celebrations) on October 1 here, an office-bearer of Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust (SSST) said today. Kovind is also likely to inaugurate the newly-built Shirdi airport in Ahmednagar district on that day. “The president will arrive at Shirdi and inaugurate Saibaba Samadhi Mahostav around 11 am on October 1,” Dr Suresh Haware, chairperson of SSST told reporters here today. Kovind will also hoist a flag atop a 51-feet high flag-post, raised on the Saibaba temple premises, he said. Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister, Devendra Fadanvis, Leader of the Opposition in the state Legislative Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Ahmednagar guardian minister Ram Shinde will be present at the function, Haware said.
“During the year-long Samadhi Mahostav, 4.5 crore devotees from different parts of the country and abroad will visit the shrine. Several religious, cultural and social events have been planned as part of the celebrations through the year,” he said. Meanwhile, a Maharashtra Airport Development Company (MADC) official informed that on the same day, Kovind is likely to inaugurate the newly-built Shirdi airport, which secured the aerodrome licence from the DGCA for commercial operations last week. “We are conducting the final trial run at the Shirdi airport tomorrow with an ATR 72 aircraft. We have invited President Kovind to inaugurate the new airport on October 1,” MADC vice-chairperson and managing director Suresh Kakani told PTI in Mumbai.
Located at 238 kms from the country’s financial hub, Mumbai, Shirdi has the famous shrine of Sai Baba and is one of the prominent pilgrimage centres in the country. Owned and developed by Maharashtra Airport Development Company (MADC), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to develop airports in the state, the aerodrome is set for a final trial run tomorrow before launching the commercial operations. Kakani said that Alliance Air, which is the regional arm of the national carrier Air India, will operate the inaugural flight on October 1 and it will be a non-scheduled operation. “However, the commercial operations will begin only from October 2,” he said.
According to an estimate, about 60,000 pilgrims visit Shirdi every day, out of which the airport authorities plan to tap at least 10-12 per cent. Constructed at an investment of around Rs 350 crore, including Rs 50 crore from the Shri Saibaba Sasthan Trust, the airport is capable of handling single narrow-body aircraft, such as Airbus A320 and Boeing 737s with a 2,500 meter long runway.
The 2,750 sqm terminal building has been designed to handle a total of 300 passengers, including the arriving ones. Once the new airport operations start, the travel time to Shirdi from Mumbai is expected to reduce to 40 minutes as against five hours by road at present.