Jammu Airport Still to take off

Rajan Gandhi
Jammu Airport is unique-one of its own kind, in fact a special airport of our country, catering to lakhs of pilgrims as well as vital Air Force asset practically. Strategically, it comes under the control of both Civil Aviation through Airport Authority of India (AAI) as well as Defence Ministry through Indian Air force. Jammu airport is having both CAT 1 ILS (Instrument Landing System) and ALS (Approach Light System) system installed which makes it almost all weather airport with even night landing feasible. Keeping in view the vulnerability of Jammu-Srinagar highway during winters Jammu Airport has the distinction of evacuating thousands of passengers in short span of five to six hours, dependent on fair operating weather at Srinagar Airport, operating almost 50 to 60 flights, evacuating passengers even without luggage and operating additional flights afterwards to bring the luggage. All these operations were not at all easy keeping in view short airstrip of 6700 ft against standard 8000 ft. The case was taken up by the earlier NDA Government in the year 2000 and Jammu had a long wait of almost two decades for a mere 1300 ft extension!
First Phase Cosmetic Renovation
It took decades to start first phase of Jammu airport renovation when NDA returned to power again in 2014 and completed in 2017. Rs 90 crore modernization of Jammu airport included enhanced passenger facilities coupled with raised Pax capacity from 360 to 720 passengers per hour besides additional facilities like escalators, shopping complex at arrival as well as departure hall. The total area of Jammu Airport Terminal building got expanded from 6500 sq meter to 14500 sq meters with green features like rain water harvesting, treated water reused for floriculture, low heat gain glazing and LED lights. Terminal handling capacity of Jammu Airport got doubled with 21 check in counters, seven X-ray machines, six frisking booths, three escalators, two for departure and one for arrival. Passengers got major relief as tensile fabrics canopy got installed from airport ticketing counters till exit, whole shelter protecting passengers from extreme weather. For safety and security of passengers, terminal building is now equipped with Fire Fighting and Fire Alarm System, around 140 CCTV and Baggage Scanners. The capacity of parking area also increased from 80 cars to 160 cars and from 50 two-wheelers to 100 two-wheelers. Three imported Passenger Boarding Bridges with Advanced Visual Docking Guidance System (AVDGS) also got operationalised which not only increased operational efficiency but also provided much needed convenience to passengers.
Critical Runway Expansion
However all this has proved to be a futile exercise as runway is still barely 6700 ft against required 8000 ft and delay was from none other than army because of prolonged delay in handing over land by the Army authorities to the Airport Authority of India. Despite approval by the Ministry of Defence in 2013, the concerned Army Authorities kept delaying shifting of their military installations from the identified area for the runway expansion though the State Government completed transfer of 138 kanals of forest land to the Army at Sunjwan in exchange of the land under its occupation adjoining the airport and released Rs 7 crore as compensation for the utilities which were to be razed, the Defence authorities still delayed eviction of land on one or another pretext. This went on till on 9 January 2017, when Air India flight 821, an Airbus A320-200 scheduled flight from Delhi overran runway at Jammu on landing. The aircraft touched down at a distance of 2,400 feet from the runway threshold, four of the eight main landing gear tires burst during the rollout and the aircraft came to halt on soft ground 8 meters from the edge of the runway. A total of 19 flights were cancelled after the accident, inconveniencing the passengers. Immediately extension of runway was undertaken but COVID as well as non availability of sand/gravel delayed the expansion and finally in 2022 extended runway operationalised. In addition to the runway expansion, 2,800 meters of boundary wall and rigid pavement perimeter road and a turn pad designed for Airbus 321 also got constructed under this project.
Present Airport Proposals
Right now Jammu Airport is handling 46 daily flights, 23 incoming and 23 outgoing, handling almost 1.5 lakh monthly passengers. Last landing flight is at 6.50 pm in foggy winter months, landing visibility requirement reduced to 800 m from 1200 m after CAT-1 installation. Years 2021 and 2022 saw major bottlenecks of extended runway, night flights and removal of load penalty with the result airlines are operating now full capacity Airbus 320, 186 passengers with full load and even Airbus 321 with 225 passengers can be scheduled at Jammu airport now, night flights are right now permitted till 8.10 pm and airlines are carrying full load with the result dynamic reduction in passenger fare. In coming summer holiday’s Super Schedule 78 daily flights, 39 incoming and 39 outgoing, will be operated. Illegal colony of around 61 houses adjacent to airport was removed in 2019, land handed over to AAI, a new parking built on it and it is proposed to shift the existing ‘Exit Gate’ to this newly constructed parking with covered waiting area, a proper washroom facility and a canteen for waiting relatives. This will be a major relief to passengers as there is no outside parking and entire main road faces major traffic jams during arrival of flights. It is also under consideration to start direct helicopter services to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Bhavan which will be a major boost for pilgrim tourism. A solar plant of 300 Kw is under installation which will drastically reduce operational airport cost as well as overcome unscheduled electricity cut problems during peak summer. Airlines have been advised to explore possibility of direct flights to other major cities which will be a big relief to youth of Jammu who are working outside Jammu in other states.
Enhanced Security
On security front, Jammu Airport is now guarded by CISF and the visible changes have been put in place. No more simple yellow, pink or any other gate pass valid, a proper form with proof of identity and photograph has to be submitted and only after approval from Airport Security in charge a proper photo ID card is printed, properly laminated with clear mention of area of visit and duration of pass. It is due to these strict measures in place that recently many attempts to recce Jammu Airport have been foiled and accused handed over to local police for further investigations.
Future Airport Expansion
As GoI has shelved the proposal for construction of Jammu International Airport in between village Deon in tehsil Bari Brahmana to village Sumb in tehsil Samba, further expansion of Jammu Airport is the need of the hour. With additional summer schedule flights and ever increasing pilgrim tourists this airport terminal will be virtually unable to handle the passengers. New terminal project at a cost of 700 crores has already been sanctioned, out of total 975 kanals of allotted land 734 kanals transferred to AAI with balance approximate 241 kanals occupied by Animal Husbandry Department and efforts are on to get this land vacated at the earliest. Another chunk of 90 kanals of private land has been left right now as issue of compensation has to be resolved by state Government. Major expansion from existing 14,500 sq m to 40,000 plus sq m area of new terminal building, entrance from fourth Tawi bridge side and it is proposed to give direct access to passengers from parking to first floor of the new terminal of airport for departure like other modern airports with a modular car parking of 700 to 800 cars. A separate Cargo Complex is also part of new terminal which will provide a major boost to the economic activities of Jammu division. Land survey as well as soil investigation has already been done and environmental consultant for the project also appointed. Tender for outer boundary wall already floated and if all goes well without any hiccups project is supposed to be completed by end of 2024.
Still Existing Bottlenecks
Outside airport, main road landscape is still not presentable at all, with dilapidated approach roads on both sides, haphazard non planned encroached shops and rain water logging in front of existing exit gate is too horrifying experience for tourists. Red light turn at entrance road to ‘In Gate’ causes major jams during peak hours which extend up to exit gate. Though six laning of road from Satwari to RS Pura is proposed yet till it materializes it’s all messed up scenario. Government must decongest the route to ensure a real Smart City experience. No late night flight is another major concern especially for critically injured or ill patients requiring immediate medical attention at PGI Chandigarh or AIIMS New Delhi. Government must consider at least night air taxi for such emergency situations. Sunday is maintenance day for Air force as such no late evening flights thus causing inconvenience to weekend tourists, though Jammu airport authorities have offered Air force any other working day for maintenance yet it remains to be seen Sunday gets spared by Air force or not. For new Chandigarh Airport not only Punjab and Haryana provided free land but they are also 49% partner in the project and in return they have developed whole new airport route as commercial hub and in the process getting manifold return of their investments. Similar kind of proposal had been discussed for new proposed airports of our state but state politicians and bureaucrats once again proved that they have no vision, least resolve and zero planning for Jammu.
GoI is trying its best to develop Jammu at par with rest of India with IIT, IIM, AIIMS, Metro, you name any top institution/project and it’s allotted to Jammu right now but without planning for a futuristic airport in place all these plans are bound to be hampered at one or another point of time. Jammu has a history of on papers only projects like Artificial Lake, Zoo, Mubarak Mandi Heritage Project, Dry Port, Tawi river front to name a few which despite announced more than a decade ago yet nowhere on ground, majority of them halted, retendered or simply shelved. There are still many issues but keeping in view earnest interest of our present LG to provide equal development of all regions we hope all bottlenecks are removed immediately to develop this Jammu airport as an International Airport as well. As they say, our local administrators have to prove ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ or otherwise all announcements are mere lip services only without an actual intent. Will Jammu Airport take off this time, just wait and watch.