The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, India’s busiest, will not be able to handle commercial flights for the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, until 2010, owing to a delay in modernizing ground infrastructure.
Mumbai International Airport Ltd or Mial, the company fixing the crowded airport in the country’s financial nerve centre, has requested the civil aviation ministry for a two-year extension from the original March 2008 deadline to expand and realign a key taxiway at the aerodrome. Taxiways help landing aircraft evacuate a runway faster so that other planes can use the airport runway. For a large plane such as the A380, taxiways—in addition to runways—would have to be expanded to meet guidelines set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao), an international aviation regulator for such jets.
The Mial delays will mean international airlines such as Lufthansa AG and Eithad Airways, which are keen to use the A380 for operations to and from India, will not have Mumbai as a destination option when they prime long-haul operations using the ‘superjumbo’. It will make it one of the only key airports in the world that is not A380-compliant by next year. More than 55 high-traffic airports worldwide—the required modifications in most of these will be ready by this year-end—are spending an estimated $8 billion (Rs32,240 crore) to upgrade infrastructure to accommodate the aircraft. The first A380 will be pressed into service by Singapore Airlines Ltd in October.
The taxiway was one among 32 projects detailed under the ‘operation, management and development agreement’ that Mial had signed with the Airports Authority of India (AAI). But Mial, at a meeting with the civil aviation ministry officials on Wednesday, said it wanted more time for the taxiway “in order to avoid significant operational constraints to be caused by long closure of the taxiway during construction”. The ministry has agreed to the deadline extension.
Despite the agreement setting stiff penalties—0.5% per week of the individual project’s capital cost—AAI has decided not to impose fines on Mial for the delay. “We can’t go point-by-point by the agreement. It’s unreasonable,” a senior AAI official said, without specifying any reasons for the relaxation. “The airport can still be used for casual flights in the meantime by making (temporary) arrangements,” the official added.
The A380’s manufacturer, Airbus SAS, flew the super-jumbo to India last month on a route-proving exercise and had touched down at and taken off from the Mumbai and Delhi airports.
India’s aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, certifies an airport as per Icao guidelines, something it will be doing for the Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad airports, which will meet the specifications by 2008.
An analyst said carriers using the A380 would have to give Mumbai the miss in the initial years of flying. “It could probably have an impact on the revenues and traffic (at Mumbai) since carriers won’t be able to fly there,” said S. Nand Kumar, head of the infrastructure ratings group at Fitch India. But there’s no alternative airport available for the A380 to fly into in Mumbai.