NAGPUR/NEW DELHI: The Airports Authority of India (AAI) is working on safely halving lateral separation between aircraft flying in the same direction and altitude from 10 nautical miles (1.8km) to five in a bid to handle more air traffic as India gears up for a significant increase in airport capacity.
AAI, which provides air navigation services through ATCs, has given itself a year or so to achieve this objective after obtaining the required approvals from aviation regulator DGCA.
Sources said Nagpur airspace is one of those being treated as a test case.
A top AAI official told TOI that the rapid expansion of aviation infrastructure – Delhi NCR and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region are set to get their second airports by the end of next year – had made it imperative for ATC services to play catch-up without compromising safety.
Goa already has a second airport, while Bengaluru, Hyderabad and several other cities are poised to expand airport capacity significantly.
Delhi’s IGI Airport, the busiest in India and South Asia, has four runways now, all of which will be in use by next summer.
Union aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said recently that at the current rate of growth, the world’s fastest-growing aviation market was expected to have 42.5 crore flyers annually by 2035, almost three times the current aisle footfall of 4.5 crore.
The country will have 230-240 airports, including heliports and water aerodromes, by 2030, up from 148. The combined fleet size of Indian carriers is expected to double from the current 700 by the end of this decade, with IndiGo and Air India already placing mega orders for aircraft.
“A lot of work is visible on the ground with new terminals, runways or new airports being built, and existing ones being expanded in many cities. Simultaneously, work is on to increase the capacity on the ATC side. More airport capacity means more planes in the air, requiring a lot of work to ensure that safety remains paramount as air traffic zooms,” an official said.
Besides the lateral distance of 10 nautical miles between two planes flying in front of or behind one another, aircraft must maintain a minimum vertical distance of 300 metres.
The training required for reduced lateral separation between aircraft has been implemented in Nagpur, said a source at Nagpur ATC. The city airport is expected to be ready for the new norm in a year’s time.
At present, 1,500 aircraft overfly Nagpur airport. This number may increase if airlines deploy more planes.
Nagpur ATC airspace extends up to Bhopal in the north, Nanded in the south, Raipur towards the east and Aurangabad in the west.

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