Puducherry: Infra woes may ground airport
By Debjani Dutta - PUDUCHERRY
30th November 2012 08:44 AM
Airlines are concerned by the absence of automated night landing facilities and an aviation refueling station at the Puducherry Airport, even as they have evinced interest in operating scheduled flights, sources said.
SpiceJet, which had come forward after completing a survey of air traffic from Puducherry, had placed this demand at a meeting with the Puducherry government and officials of Airport Authority of India (AAI) in Chennai. Even Jet Airways had asked for the facilities.
Though a night landing system is installed at the airport, it is not automated and can only be used for a visual approach, where the pilot has to see and land . Besides, the automated system was more expensive and requires additional manpower, said AAI sources. At present the airport is able to just about balance its maintenance expenses through revenue from Orient Flight School and occasional charter flights.
The airlines also requested the setting up of an aviation refueling service station (ARSS) on the airport premises. AAI is willing to allow aviation fuel trucks inside the premises, but ARSS has to be outside the airport. As a step to kickstart commercial flights from Puducherry airport by providing airlines incentives to fuel their aircraft at the airport at a lower cost, the previous government had brought down the VAT on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) to one per cent to attract oil companies to set up an ARSS. However, a revision of tax rates in January increased VAT on ATF to 5 per cent.
A delegation from HPCL which explored the setting up of the ARSS at Puducherry airport in March this year felt that the airport had tremendous potential as it could not only serve Puducherry but also adjoining regions of Tamil Nadu where significant industrialisation and urbanization was taking place. However, HPCL decided against setting up an ARSS at Puducherry as only 70-80 seater aircraft can be operated from the airport at present due to its small runway length and the increased ATF costs were less attractive for this category of aircraft. Now a government decision is required to cut VAT to attract oil companies and flights by keeping ATF costs at least lower than neighbouring TN.
Both the UT government and AAI impressed upon airlines to start scheduled flights, while assuring them that the facilities would be provided subsequently. “Once operations begin and depending on the number of flights, we can press for installation of the facilities,” says Tourism Minister P Rajavelu.
Meanwhile, SpiceJet has obtained approval from the DGCA for flights. Sources said that the carrier is planning to introduce the Q-400 aircraft on the Puducherry- Bangalore route. The main airport terminal building has been upgraded for accommodating 150 passengers and only some work remains like installation of X-ray baggage machines, air conditioners, chairs and CCTV.
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