Pune, a city close to Mumbai in the Indian state of Maharashtra, has all the trappings of a prosperous, large city. As an IT and technology hub, it houses major corporate offices from India and around the world. universities, attracting thousands of students each year.
One would imagine that Pune would be well-connected with several international destinations to cater to the many business travelers, students, and visiting friends and relatives arriving in the city. But that’s not quite the case.
Demands for more flights
A member of parliament from Pune recently wrote to India’s Civil Aviation Minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, highlighting the growing demand from the city for direct flights to several international destinations.
A premier corporate body, Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture, also appealed to the ministry about having air links from Pune to places such as Singapore, Bangkok, the US, and several East Asian cities.
Such demands are not new. Enough people are visiting the city to support such operations. But a major roadblock that prevents this from happening is Pune airport’s runway, which in its present form cannot support operations of this scale.
There’s strong demand for flights from Pune to destinations such as Singapore and the US. Photo: Vincenzo Pace I Simple Flying
Although Pune airport has been assigned an international status, foreign carriers have largely stayed away from the city. The primary reason for this is the airport’s short runway, which cannot support widebody aircraft, which are crucial for long-haul operations.
While this isn’t much of a problem for domestic flights, airlines cannot deploy larger aircraft such as the Boeing 777 or an Airbus A330 for long-distance flights into the city.
Lufthansa did try connecting Pune with Frankfurt with a Boeing 737 aircraft with lie-flat beds, catering to the high inflow of business travelers. But when the agreement with the jet’s provider fell through in 2018, Lufthansa replaced the aircraft with an all-economy Airbus A319. The new service with the Airbus jet was so bad that the route was nicknamed the “world’s worst flight.”
The airport’s runway needs an extension of at least 1 to 1.5 km in length for a widebody to land safely. And while several proposals have been made regarding the extension, it still hasn’t been done.
The airport’s short runway doesn’t support operations of widebody aircraft. Photo: Gaurav Joshi –Simple Flying
Runway length isn’t the only problem the airport faces. Pune Airport is part of the Indian Air Force (IAF) station of Lohegaon. While the civil enclave handles commercial flights, the airport is primarily used to train pilots by the IAF, which also controls its air-traffic control and the runway.
Obtaining slots suitable for global airlines is also an issue due to restrictions on operating civilian flights during certain time periods. Being a defense airfield, the Indian Air Force always has the last word on any decision affecting Pune Airport.
Plans to construct a dedicated civilian airport in the city were announced five years ago in 2016, but they haven’t progressed much. The proposed airport at the nearby Purandar Taluka area could possibly affect many villages and has met with opposition from local landowners. central government is reviewing the situation and has set a 2024 deadline as of now to complete the airport.
It seems Pune will have to wait for a while to welcome a long-haul flight.
What do you think about Pune airport’s development? Please leave a comment below.