TIA works to clear backlog
The Kathmandu Post:
KATHMANDU, MAR 08 –
The Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) catered to a record 120 international flight movements on Sunday, a day after it resumed services following the four-day shutdown due to the Turkish Airlines crash, leaving thousands of travellers stranded in and out of the country.
After handling nearly 80 take-offs and landings between 6:00am and 6:00pm on Sunday, the TIA was gearing up for 40 more take-offs and landings at night.
The previous highest single day aircraft movement was in November 2011 when the airport handled 90 flight movements. The TIA handles around 70 international flights on average a day.
This high air traffic is expected to continue for another couple of days as international carriers scurry to clear their backlog. The unprecedented demand for air tickets have led to the closure of new bookings on all the international flights until March 11, according to travel agents.
There were 130 domestic aircraft movements on Sunday. After the airport was reopened at 7:30 pm on Saturday, there were 29 take-offs and landings, according to the airport authority. All international flights were halted for four days after the Turkish Airlines jet crash on Wednesday morning.
The carriers operating on the Middle East and Indian sectors were the most busy on the day. “I haven’t seen anything close to this traffic,” said an Air Traffic Controller (ATC), who did not want to be named. “It was the most challenging day I have had.”
An estimated 25,000 passengers have passed through the airport until Sunday, according to the TIA.
The airport witnessed several unusual sights on Sunday, with carriers occupying its parking bay, taxiway and even a section of the runway—mostly by wide-body aircraft. The TIA has nine international parking bays—four for wide body aircraft.
But on Sunday, it accommodated as many as 14 aircraft, including five on the taxiway.
“All take-offs went smoothly but landings were difficult due to heavy air traffic,” the official said.
Consequently, several flights including that of Air Asia, Air Arabia and Fly Dubai were diverted to Calcutta and Lucknow in India as they ran low on fuel while waiting for their turn to land in Kathmandu.
“Some aircraft were put on hold in the air for three hours,” the official said, adding that many of the pilots, who were waiting for clearance, requested for permission to land stating that they would be comfortable even to park at the taxiway.
The TIA had doubled the number of ATCs from the normal three considering the unusual rush. “We were told to work for 18 hours in three shifts,” the official said, “but all of us accepted the challenge to relieve thousands of travellers, who had to endured tough time due to the shutdown.”
Most of the airlines have added extra flights to handle the passenger rush. The Kathmandu-Delhi sector alone saw 11 flights, the most for the day.
While Jet Airways made no change to its regular schedule--three flights on Kathmandu-Delhi and two on Kathmandu-Mumbai sectors, other carriers have increased flight frequency on the sector.
Air India doubled its flights on the Kathmandu-Delhi sector to four on Sunday, with Indigo Air and Spice Jet operating a flight each on the sector. Nepal Airlines conducted two flights to Delhi, adding one more to its regular schedule.
“The incoming flights from Delhi are also overbooked,” said Deepak Basnet, ticketing executive at Osho World Nepal. “It’s not possible to get tickets on flights in and out of the country until Wednesday.” Only few carriers have jacked up ticket prices, he added.
The Middle-eastern carriers, which command 39 percent of the total passenger market share, have been fully booked until Thursday.
The Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways operated two flights on Sunday and has doubled its flights to four for Monday. Doha-based Qatar Airways flew three 260-seat wide-body aircraft, while Air Arabia of Sharjah has increased two more flights, taking the total number of flights to five on Monday.
Likewise, Oman Air has doubled its flights to two for Monday and is fully booked until March 15. Fly Dubai increased its frequency to three flights on Sunday.
Malaysia Airlines has also doubled its flights to four for Monday and Tuesday.
Flights on Malindo Air--another Kuala Lumpur-based carrier--have been overbooked for the next three days.
Flights on Chinese carriers—Air China, China Eastern and China Southern—are also fully booked until Tuesday, while no tickets are available for flights on Hong Kong-based Dragon Air and Turkish Airlines until Wednesday.