Wednesday, June 23

Bagdogra bursts at seams, can’t take more peak-hour flights

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The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has turned down airlines’ requests for more flights to Bagdogra during the day, citing the overcrowding of the terminal building that is stretched way beyond capacity.

“The terminal building is bursting at the seams. During the peak holiday season when passenger loads shoot up, passengers cram the terminal with no place to sit or even move around freely. Officials at the airport are finding it extremely challenging to manage smooth operations. We have, therefore, taken a conscious decision not to entertain any more flights during busy hours,” said Airports Authority of India regional executive director (east) K L Sharma.

This shows how traffic demands are overwhelming our infrastructure and always seem to be several steps ahead of what we plan for. Infra upgrade in north Bengal has the potential to spur faster economic growth and development in the region.

With nearly all flights to Bagdogra from Kolkata and Delhi going full, carriers are keen to operate more flights to the north Bengal airport. Apart from the prospect of more loads, they also get to lift aviation turbine fuel (ATF) sans VAT. But all of them want to operate within the 10am to 5pm window when passengers can travel onwards to Darjeeling and Sikkim. At present, Bagdogra Airport has 26 daily flights, all between 10am and 5pm.

While the runway and parking bays have capacity to accommodate more flights, the terminal building is over-saturated. Designed to handle 400-450 passengers per hour, the terminal has more than 1,000 passengers at any given moment. The situation gets even more challenging between noon and 3pm when seven flights land and five flights take off.

“In recent years, the airport has recorded a huge surge in footfall. We are all trying our best but the infrastructure is woefully inadequate to handle so many passengers. We have personally requested AAI not to entertain any further increase in flights during peak hour,” said Bagdogra airport director Banibrata Bakshi.

Bakshi, however, said the airport was open to welcoming early morning and late evening flights. “The airport now has instrument landing system and can function from 5.30am to 9.30pm,” he said.

“No matter how much we try to make optimum use of the existing terminal building, congestion can’t be avoided. The existing building can handle a maximum of around 500 passengers in the arrival section and an equal number in the departure section in an hour. But we regularly get more than 2,000 passengers per hour,” an official said. Minor changes have been made to add space. These include increasing security hold area on the first floor, shifting the restaurant to another part of the building and churning more space in the check-in area of the ground floor by making adjustments near the section with the conveyer belts and the exit gate.

Source: Times of India

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