The Civil Aviation Ministry is likely to downgrade the status of Patna airport as being unfit for handling jets such as the Airbus 320s and the Boeing 737s, primarily on account of safety concerns arising from the short length of the runway, the safety strips flanking the runway on either side lacking width and obstruction to the flight path because of trees.
The downgrade, expected in a couple of months, would effectively mean flight services operated by Air India, IndiGo, Jet Airways and GoAir might have to be discontinued and the state capital could face the prospect of virtually having no air connectivity. The state currently has two operational airports — the other one in Gaya that is connected by just one flight a day.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has written to the state government, warning that unless remedial measures are taken to upgrade flight safety at the airport, the aviation regulator would be forced to allow only small aircraft to operate to Patna.
The letter was shot off by the DGCA after the audit team from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which was in India during the last week of August, raised concerns over Patna being the only airport in the country that is operating without any licence from the regulator. Every airport in the country is allowed to function only after it gets a licence from the DGCA, which inspects the airports and looks at various aspects, including safety, as part of the standards notified by ICAO.
While addressing the aviation ministers and secretaries conference here on Tuesday, Civil Aviation Secretary K N Srivastava raised concerns over the safety of operations at Patna airport. “If the problems at the airport in Patna continue, we will have to issues orders to discontinue operation of bigger jets and the airport will only have ATR (small 70-seater aircraft) operations,” he said.
The airstrip at the Patna airport is about 6,400 feet long, but the usable length is only about 5,500 feet due to obstruction in the flight path. Safety strips on both sides of the runway is half of the required 150 metres. Due to a shorter runway, airlines operating in and out of Patna airport fly with load limitations, which means 20 to 30 per cent of their seats are empty.
DIRECT FLIGHTS FROM PATNA : 15 per