Behind airport crowd surge: Bunching of foreign flight arrivals around the same time

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Even as the government and operators are focused on expanding the infrastructure at airports to deal with the increasing crowds from international flights, an analysis of schedules at the country’s top two international airports — Delhi and Mumbai — points to a bunching of international flight arrivals during one part of the day.

At Delhi, for instance, of the 78 international passenger flights that arrived on Monday, 37 were scheduled to arrive in the 8-hour window from 2am to 10 am. Similarly, at Mumbai, of the 51 international passenger flights scheduled to arrive on Tuesday, 30 arrived between 12 am and 8 am.

Notably, in certain two-hour blocks like 10 am to 12 pm, only three flights arrived in Delhi and only one flight arrived in Mumbai, according to information sourced from flight tracking portal Flightradar24.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia wrote: “Took stock of the preparedness, testing capacities, and the situation on the ground with regard to crowd management at both private and Airports Authority of India airports. Have put an action plan with 8 compliances on immigration queues, expanding RT-PCR service providers ramping up help desks & forex counters, along with seamless floor management. Rest assured, Ministry of Civil Aviation is monitoring the situation on a daily basis & passengers shall not face any inconvenience at airports”.

The bunching of flights in certain time blocks is in line with the pre-pandemic practice of international flights arrivals but the air-bubble arrangements presented an opportunity for spaced-out scheduling of flights. In Delhi, 78 international passenger flights arrived on Monday, compared to around 170 flights per day in December 2019. The December 2019 data is sourced from the Airports Authority of India, and comprises all international aircraft arrivals including passenger, cargo and chartered flights. Similarly, for Mumbai, there were 51 international passenger flight arrivals on Tuesday, compared with 117 arrivals in December 2019.

Airline executives pointed out that it is a difficult task for airports to reschedule international flights given that — firstly, when the number of international flights during a day reduces, the frequency of domestic flights increases, and second the slot allocation also depends on availability of take-off slots for airlines in the origin country.

Mails sent to Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) and Adani Airports, which operates the Mumbai airport, went unanswered

Following reports of crowding at airports and the government’s intervention, DIAL CEO Videh Kumar Jaipuriar said on Monday: “Delhi Airport has been making continuous enhancements in infrastructure and processes to manage the new screening norms for passengers arriving from at-risk countries”.

Mumbai airport said in a statement: “At Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA), we have set up 100 registration counters and 60 sampling booths including 100 Rapid PCR machines. On 3rd December 2021, a total of 6732 international arrival passengers from at-risk & other countries successfully completed their arrival procedures”.

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