The government has asked Mumbai airport to reduce the number of scheduled flights and restrict the movement of business jets during rush hours in a bid to reduce congestion and improve on-time departures. The move will force airlines to cut some 40 flights and hit operations of private jets which is used by some of the country’s top business houses.
The Airport Authority of India, which handles air navigation services, has asked the airport to reduce aircraft movement from 46 to 44 during rush hour and from 44 to 42 during non-peak hours.
The direction to reduce the number of flights will force airlines to cut around 40 flights from the middle of this week, industry executives familiar with the matter said. IndiGo, which operates the highest number of flights, will have to reduce 18 flights while the Air India group including Vistara will have to cut 17, executives said.
Simultaneously, the curfew on operation of business jets has been extended from four hours to eight hours, leading to protests from top corporate groups such as Reliance Industries, JSW and the Mahindra group.
Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL), which operates the airport, didn’t comment till press time.
The airport, owned by the Adani group, is the second busiest in the country after Delhi and sees heavy movement of business jets. It operates more flights than any airport with a single runway and in December, handled its highest-monthly traffic of 4.88 million passengers.
People aware of the development said that the decision was taken after civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia raised concerns over the plummeting on-time departure numbers at the airport.
Senior air traffic controllers termed the leading cause of delay to overscheduling by airlines amid increasing demand for air travel this year.
“Runway capacity is the sum of multiple things like availability of infrastructure such as parking stands and the time taken by the aircraft to vacate the runway. The airport had given slots to airlines considering the peak handling capacity. But for instance, if an aircraft is pushing back from one bay, the aircraft in the adjacent parking bay cannot move despite being ready to take off,” a government official said. “Also, in a city like Mumbai, there are multiple unscheduled movements like aircraft of government and business houses which sometimes delays scheduled flights.”
He added that the government has also asked airports that from the upcoming summer schedule, they should factor in unforeseen circumstances while forecasting peak hour capacity.
Airline network planners said that such sudden cancellations hurt their ability to redeploy the aircraft, leading to losses. “Airlines will have to shell out a substantial amount to passengers as compensation,” said an airline executive.
Rajesh Bali, managing director of Business Aircraft Operator Association, said that the extra restriction on business jets is concerning as corporate leaders who rely on private jets for their travel needs already had limited slots to operate.
“The new restrictions will significantly hamper business aviation operations, affecting the functionality of Mumbai as the commercial hub of the nation,” he said.
Air traffic has increased exponentially after COVID with passenger traffic surpassing pre-pandemic records. But every major airport has seen severe congestion, leading to public outcry.
Aviation security regulator BCAS has mandated that any addition of new flights at airports has to be based on passenger-handling capacity at security checkpoints. BCAS has set a standard saying that each X-ray machine can handle a maximum of 180 passengers per hour on the domestic side and 160 passengers on the international side.