SHILLONG, Dec 5: Despite flattening two hills for a longer runway, the Shillong Airport at Umroi, Ri Bhoi has not graduated from the smaller ATR72 to bigger aircraft such as Boeing and Airbus.
Uday Rawat, recently appointed as an independent expert member for aviation by the Transport department explained the challenges that Shillong Airport faces.
“This airport has a 6,000 feet runway at an elevation of 3,000 feet above sea level. An aircraft’s performance decreases at a higher elevation and this has become a constraint for operating larger aircraft here,” he told The Shillong Times.
He said the airport is certified as a critical airfield for ATR72. Bigger aircraft apart from the Q400 Bombardier will have issues landing and taking off from the airport, he added.
He lamented that the state does not have any aviation expert or company that can advise the government on upgrading the airport to facilitate the operation of larger aircraft. But aviation experts elsewhere can be consulted, he felt.
The state government is dependent on the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for technical advice on the functioning of the airport.
Rawat said the government and AAI could, as a solution, weigh the idea of making the Shillong Airport runway unidirectional like the one at Lengpui Airport near Aizawl in Mizoram.
The airport has a category 1 instrument landing system (ILS) installed on runway 22.
Rawat said the diversion or cancellation of flights at Shillong Airport is minimal due to the configuration of the ILS. This has helped the airport have a better track record than the IGI Airport in Delhi.
He explained when a flight comes to the airport from the direction of Umiam, it gets only 5,000 ft of the runway due to obstacles that need to be cleared according to regulations. But an aircraft can utilise the entire 6,000 ft while taking off.
“The obstacles around the airport are significant. The government and the AAI should try to extend the runway to 7,000 ft for more safety and for bigger aircraft to land,” he said, identifying the Embraer 175 as the ideal aircraft for Shillong Airport. “I have done a detailed study. This aircraft has turbo that can fly at the same altitude as Boeing and Airbus and can take the same time as these bigger aircraft to fly from Shillong to Hyderabad, Delhi and even Chennai,” Rawat said.
The aircraft classification number of the Shillong Airport is 23 and as such, an ATR weighing 21-22 tonnes can safely land here. The minimum weight of Boeing and Airbus is about 55 tonnes, considered too heavy for the existing runway.
Rawat said bitumen needs to be used on the concrete runway. “If the tarmac and runway are not strengthened, bigger aircraft cannot land here,” he added.