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Chennai Floods: Domestic Carriers Take A Hit

The civil aviation ministry has already warned airlines that it would intervene if the carriers didn’t stop taking advantage of the situation. The government said six low-priced flights would be operated daily from Chennai

Photo Credit :

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The domestic airlines have taken a hit as a result of the unprecedented rains that have flooded Chennai leaving 34 aircrafts of various airlines stranded at the tarmac of the Chennai's domestic and international airport. According to the Airports Authority of India (AAI), 34 aircraft were grounded at the submerged airport since December 1, 2015. Flights to and out of Chennai were after 8:30 pm on December 1, 2015 and AAI said the airport would remain shut till December 6. About 1,500 passengers and 2,000 airport workers were evacuated by December 2 as water entered terminal buildings.

The unprecedented rains, the worst in 100 years, have battered Tamil Nadu's northern districts such as Chennai, Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram and Cuddalore.

Chennai airport is the main hub of several carriers like SpiceJet, Jet Airways, Air Costa, Blue Dart aviation and a secondary hub for GoAir and IndiGo. In 2014-15, Chennai airport handled 14.29 million passengers and about 342 aircraft movements per day.

But the good news for most carriers is that on Thursday the aviation ministry official said the planes stranded at the Chennai airport were safe.

"We are closely monitoring the situation in Chennai. All our operations at Chennai Airport have been suspended till further instructions as the airport is water-logged and the tarmac is submerged in one and half feet of water," SpiceJet said in a release. "The whole city is cut off from the airport and SpiceJet officials along with the Airport Authority of India are on their toes providing solace to the passengers with all the available resources," it said.

According to G.P. Gupta, the chief administrative officer, SpiceJet, refunds have been offered to cancelled flights and alternatives have been offered where ever possible. On December 1, low-cost carrier IndiGo said all flights operating out of Chennai had been temporarily cancelled following closure of the airport. IndiGo too assured that all passengers would receive 100 percent refund against the flight cancellations made on grounds of weather conditions, and cancellation and change fee will be waived off for affected passengers till further notice

Restoring Confidence
For the stranded air travelers, defense authorities permitted the use of Naval Air Station INS Rajali in Arakkonam, 70 km west of central Chennai and Tambaram Air Force Station 20 km south as relief airports for civilian commercial and official rescue/assistance flights. Additionally, Air Force personnel evacuated passengers from Chennai airport to the two military bases for onward journeys on Air Force transport aircraft to Hyderabad and Delhi.

According to a senior official in the aviation ministry, efforts are on to operate at least six flights on Friday and Saturday from Rajali, located around 60 kilometers away from Chennai. Besides Air India, IndiGo and SpiceJet have also indicated they would operate flights.

Minister of state for civil aviation Mahesh Sharma said the flights from the Rajali naval base would offer tickets at low prices. "(For these flights) the airlines will charge Rs 1,000 for destinations in the South and Rs 2,000 for destinations in the North," Sharma said. He added that passengers booking tickets for these flights would be allowed to carry only their hand baggage and not any check-in baggage. Shuttle train services are available from Chennai airport every 15 minutes, which can be used by people to reach Rajali.

AAI is looking at starting limited operations with smaller aircraft out of Chennai airport. "The water level is steadily decreasing, providing hope for partial restoration of operations. We are looking at clearing the first 1,500 meters of Runway 25, which is clear of water at present, making the reduced length of runway available for operations, especially for small aircraft operations (ATRs/Bombardiers)," AAI said in a statement.

Don't Profit from Tragedy
The civil aviation ministry has already warned airlines that it would intervene if the carriers didn’t stop taking advantage of the situation. The government said six low-priced flights would be operated daily from Chennai after fares from nearby airports shot up to six times the normal lastminute rates. The fares on flights from nearby airports of Bengaluru, Tirupati, Madurai and Coimbtore shot up as more and more stranded air passengers headed by road. "We have requested the airlines not to take advantage of the situation and overcharge fliers. If this continues, we will have to fix fares like we did in the case of Nepal," Sharma said. The ministry has already instructed state-owned Air India to operate rescue and relief flights to evacuate passengers.

Importance of Chennai Airport
Chennai airport is the regional headquarters of the Airports Authority of India for the southern region of India comprising the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala and the union territories of Puducherry and Lakshadweep. From Chennai, the AAI keeps a tab on around 49 airports. The airport currently has 70 parking bays, one of which can accommodate the superjumbo Airbus A380.