How much longer must Bokaro wait for commercial flights to start?

Even if we conservatively assume an annual flight of 2 lakh passengers, it would work out to more than 500 passengers daily on an average to and from Bokaro

How much longer must Bokaro wait for commercial flights to start?
Work in progress at the Bokaro airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/@AAI_Official

Bokaro Steel City has had a runway since 1963. Many people might not remember that the Bokaro steel project was initially supposed to rely on US aid. The then US ambassador to India, JK Galbraith, flew to the project site Maraphari, as it was then called, and the runway was hastily commissioned in 1963 to facilitate his flight.

Somehow, the US collaboration did not fructify and ultimately in 1964, the then USSR stepped in and Bokaro Steel Limited came up with Soviet assistance.

The airport runway has been extended and improved many times since then to facilitate many flights (including that of the Prime Minister of India thrice -- in 1968 for foundation-stone-laying of blast furnace number one, its commissioning in 1972 and the hot strip mill commissioning in 1976).

Presently, it is 1,670 metres (5,479 feet) long and at a height of 217 metres (711.9 feet) above the mean sea level. It had originally been a private airport.

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It was designated as an UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) airport in 2017 and the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) handed over the airport to Airports Authority of India (AAI) to facilitate commercial flights. Since then there have been reports that SpiceJet has decided to start commercial flights as soon as they are cleared by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). 

Runway at the Bokaro airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/@AAI_Official

Many dates had been announced but they have come and gone and the people of Bokaro are still waiting for the commencement of commercial flights. Meanwhile, Darbhanga (in Bihar) has already started flight services and Deoghar is scheduled to start them in February 2021.

There are almost 50,000 children of Bokaro Steel's current and past employees, staying (either working or studying) in metropolitan cities of India and even abroad. Either they or their parents fly in and out from Ranchi presently to reach Bokaro. Since the educational facilities of the state are not of top-notch quality, students migrate to other states to pursue higher studies.

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These people travel at least twice during the year to meet their parents or during festivals. Parents also go from Bokaro to their children's homes in other states/countries. Even if we conservatively assume an annual flight of 2,00,000 passengers, it would work out to more than 500 passengers daily on an average to and from Bokaro which should provide a business opportunity for five ATR loads every day.

Commercially, it makes a lot of sense and that is why airlines like SpiceJet are eager to pursue this opportunity. The newly-started Darbhanga airport (commercial flights commenced from November 8, 2020), for which there were doubts regarding viability, has over 90% capacity utilisation. It now has eight regular flights.

The delay in starting commercial flights from the Bokaro airport is occurring on account of hurdles like cutting of trees, frequent damage to the perimeter wall by miscreants, including for grazing of cattle, and some minor finishing jobs by the AAI. The need is for the AAI, Government of India, local administration (including the forest department), Jharkhand government and SAIL to come together in a determined manner and make it happen soon. 

The wait has been frustrating; however, we are hopeful of commercial flights to start in early 2021.

(The author is a 1966-batch BIT Sindri Electrical Engineering Graduate and retired as DGM, Bokaro Steel Limited. He tweets @samarjeet_n)