Short runway forces midway refuelling: Lufthansa
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The airline has been operating a Boeing 737-800, a 90-plus seater between Pune and Frankfurt four times week and has been taking the fuelling stop at Tbilisi in Georgia. This is because the short runway at Lohegaon makes it impossible to take off with full payload. It takes off from Pune Airport with partially filled fuel tanks and refuels at Tbilisi. The same fuel break is not taken while flying back from Frankfurt to Pune as by the time the flight reaches Pune Airport, most fuel is consumed resulting in a reduced payload.
In reply to an email sent by The Indian Express, Lufthansa said, "The operation of LH-769 from Pune to Frankfurt includes a brief technical stopover for refuelling. This is due to payload restrictions at Pune Airport."
P S R K Sudhakar, airport director, said, "It is an internal matter of the airlines. The existing runway length is adequate aircraft the airline is flying. In fact a number of domestic airlines operate the same make of aircraft. As far as runway extension is concerned, land acquisition by the district collector has been handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF)." Spokesperson, 2 Wing of the IAF Lohegaon Station, wing commander R R Lall, was not available for comment.
The civil aviation subcommittee of the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA) has been representing the industry as far as the need for a new airport is concerned. S K Jain, vice-president and chairman of the committee, said, "Last week, when we met the collector, he said the work in this regard at the collector office is complete."
Lufthansa started the Pune-Frankfurt flight in 2008-09. Initially, a fully business class flight with 56 seats, the airlines responded to changing market dynamics and introduced an economy class in April last year increasing capacity to 92-60 economy class and 32 business class seats.
The length of the runway, shared with IAF, is 8,300 feet and is expected to be extended by 2,200 feet. "The runway cannot be extended on the eastern side and thus the extension will have to be on the western end. It will change the airport boundary and even the outer road leading to IAF station will have to be redrawn," said Jain.
District collector Vikas Deshmukh was not available for comment.