The tug-of-war between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and civil aviation operators over relaxation of restrictions to operate flights during the peak evening slot at Lohegaon Airport has finally found middle ground.
After Pune Airport Authority sent a proposal for relaxation of the restriction four months ago, the IAF gradually allowed domestic flights to operate in a step-by-step manner over the last three months. Now the restriction is finally relaxed totally, but the restriction between 8 am and 10.30 am is still in effect.
The IAF had earlier reserved the slot for routine sortie operations and domestic and civil flights were restricted from flying during this time. The IAF finally relaxed its no-fly restriction and has allowed civil airlines to operate flights for an additional three and a half hours during the evenings.
On the backdrop of Diwali and New Year approaching, three flights on the Delhi route have already began functioning in this new slot, and proposals from other airlines seeking to operate during peak slot are in the pipeline.
“We approached the Air Force station some four months ago with a proposal seeking to relax the 7 to 10.30 pm slot, which was reserved for training and sorties earlier. In a welcome move, the Air Force began relaxing this much-needed slot for civil aviation,” PSRK Sudhakar, Director, Lohegaon Airport said.
Currently, Lohegaon Airport sees a total of 42 arrivals and 42 departures in the domestic sector along with two international flights. As the new evening slot opened, Indigo started a flight to Delhi, which arrives in Pune at 8.25 pm and leaves for the capital thereafter.
The Pune-Delhi route is in major demand at Lohegaon Airport and SpiceJet started a Delhi flight over the past three months, which arrives in the city 8.35 pm. Similarly, Go Air Delhi-Pune flight touches down in the city at 9 pm.
“The early morning and evening slots are always in demand for any airport. But as Pune airport belongs to the IAF, both these slots were previously reserved for their routine sorties. But this is the first time the airport is observing a heavy rush of passengers during the evenings,” Sudhakar said.
Lohegaon Air Force station officials confirmed the development. “The Air Force station has relaxed evening restrictions for domestic flights, and this development began four months ago,” said Wing Commander RR Lal, spokesperson, Lohegaon Air Force Station.
Commuters have welcomed the evening flights, as it is now possible for them to complete their work and return to Pune the same day.
Abhishek Patil, an assistant manager with Demag Cranes, who regularly travels to Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai on work, said, “The evening arrivals to Pune, especially from Delhi, before 9 pm will help me a lot. Previously, I had to come back to the city via Mumbai, which took an additional five hours.”
City businessman Nikhil Topkar, said, “I regularly travel to Delhi and Kolkata on work. Earlier, if I wanted to return to the city on the same day because of flight restrictions I reached Lohegaon Airport at midnight.”
Good step forward
“Earlier there was un-announced curfew between 8 am to 10.30 am and 7 pm to 10.30 pm. But by relaxing the evening slot, the Indian Air force has taken a good step forward towards encouraging civil aviation. We welcome this decision. The morning slot is still reserved for the IAF sorties and no operations can take place during that time. But recently, the IAF partially approved for complete relaxation, including the morning slot, which is expected to be implemented sometime soon. Pune airport will get an additional two and half hours, which will help to accommodate more flights,” said SK Jain, president, Airport Committee of Maratha Chamber of Commerce Industries and Agriculture.
Only for sorties
Pune Airport is an operational base of the Indian Air Force, which currently houses two squadrons of Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter jets. The IAF had reserved slots between 8am and 10.30 am and 7 pm and 10.30 pm (a total of six hours) for sorties. In these six hours, civil aviation operations were totally restricted.