Dabolim Airport (Konkani: दाबोळी विमानतळ Dabollim Vimantoll, pronounced [d̪aˑbɔˑɭĩˑ wimaˑn̪t̪ɔɭ]) (IATA: GOI, ICAO: VAGO) is located in the village of Dabolim in Goa, India. It is the only airport in the state and operates as a civil enclave in a military airbase named INS Hansa.
The airport was built by the government of the Estado da Índia Portuguesa in the 1950s on 249 acres (101 ha). Until 1961 it served as the main hub for the local airline TAIP Transportes Aéreos da Índia Portuguesa, which on a regular schedule served Karachi, Mozambique, Timor, and other destinations. In April 1962, it was occupied by the Indian Navy's air wing when Major General K.P. Candeth, who had led the successful military operation into Goa, "handed over" the airport to the Indian Navy before relinquishing charge as its military governor to a Lieutenant Governor of the then Union Territory of Goa in June.
The earliest international (i.e. non-Portuguese) tourists to Goa may have been the flower children of the 1960s. They used the overland route, by road or rail, from Bombay (now Mumbai), detouring via Poona (now Pune), to north Goa's secluded beaches. A sea route was also available. For civilian air travel out of Vasco da Gama and Goa the Indian Navy and the Government of India invited the public sector airline (known now as Indian) to operate at Dabolim from 1966 after the runway was repaired and jet-enabled. Road and rail travel remains the mainstay of journeys between Goa and places like Mumbai and Bangalore though they take 12–15 hours nowadays (down from 24 hours at one time).
Once two vital road bridges across the main waterways of Goa were built in the early 1980s and Goa hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 1983, the charter flight business began to take off at Dabolim a few years later, pioneered by Condor Airlines of Germany.
Goa's estimated 700 international flights per year account for some 90% of the country's international charter tourist flights. It is estimated that about 150 to 200 thousand foreign tourists arrive at Dabolim on charter flights. Goa's total foreign tourists (roughly double the charter passengers) account for 5-10% of the national figure and 10-15% of the country's foreign exchange receipts from tourism. As the weekend morning hours approach saturation due to waves of chartered flights especially from UK, and Russia, attention is shifting to the night and early morning hours of weekdays for accommodating such flights. Tourists from UK to Goa by air were estimated to number about 101,000 in 2007-08 while those from Russia numbered about 42,000 (by 159 charter flights) in the same period. These were the top two foreign tourist categories. Charter flights booked by Russia for the current season numbered 240.
Dabolim's Air traffic control is in the hands of the Indian Navy, which earns revenues from this service on account of aircraft movements. Landing fees are of the order of Rs 17,000 each. RNF is about Rs 7,400. The Airports Authority of India could be eligible for aircraft parking fees of Rs 10,000 per day. It receives a part of the passenger service fee which is shared between it and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). The AAI's prime source of earning is from non-traffic services like passenger facilitation, car park, entry tickets, stalls, restaurants and shops at the main terminal building and advertising boards. With such revenues at an estimated Rs 700 million, Dabolim airport is one of only a dozen "profitable" airports of the Airports Authority of India (AAI).
Capital expenditures (such as for runway expansion) at the airport are covered by AAI. The Dabolim airport runway has increased in length over the years from about 6,000 feet (1,829 m) initially to at least 7,850 feet (2,390 m) today (approx 2,370 m) , and can now accommodate Boeing 747s. There is a shortage of night parking bays which are at a premium in metro airports like Mumbai. A local association has estimated that about 40 hectares are needed for the civil enclave in comparison to the 14 hectares earmarked at present.
The Indian Civil Aviation Ministry announced a plan to upgrade Dabolim airport in 2006. This involved constructing a new international passenger terminal (after converting the existing one to domestic) and adding several more aircraft stands over an area of about 4 hectares (9.9 acres). The construction was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007. However delays in transfer of the required land from the Navy have held up proceedings.
The airport is spread over 688 hectares (1,700 acres) (and possibly 745 hectares or 1,840 acres) and consists of a civil enclave of nearly 14 hectares (35 acres), an increase from its original size of 6 hectares (15 acres). There are two terminal buildings operated by the public sector Airports Authority of India (AAI) which are Public Works Department (PWD) brick and mortar structures with a total floor space of 12,000 square metres (130,000 sq ft). Of this, a domestic terminal comprises 2,000 square metres (22,000 sq ft) and there is an international terminal that comprises 1,000 square metres (11,000 sq ft). The remaining space is for other service areas.
The domestic terminal was built in 1983 and is designed to process 350 arrivals and departures simultaneously, while the international terminal built in 1996 is meant for 250. There are 250 paramilitary personnel stationed at the airport for security purposes. There is provision for parking 84 cars and 8 buses. The car park has since been reserved for staff vehicles. Private cars and buses have been relegated to spaces outside the airport premises.
Of the 30-40 flights daily, there is a very large concentration of civilian traffic in the period between 1:00 pm and 6:00 pm during weekdays, with the balance in the early morning hours. This is because of naval restrictions for military flight training purposes. This flight training takes place throughout the year. The huge demand during the peak Christmas/New Year tourist season results in the sharp spiking of air fares during this period. Delhi/Mumbai-Goa air fares for this period have become a bench mark of sorts at the upper end, comparable to international fares from Mumbai to Dubai and to Bangkok. Officially, night operations have been permitted and enabled since October 2007 but they have taken place only an ad hoc basis subject to the mandatory clearance of the naval ATC.
The Navy's premises straddle the Dabolim runway and consequently its personnel cross at two points (on foot or bicycles or in vehicles) between flights. One point near the terminal constrains the enlargement of aircraft parking space. Moreover, such crossings pose a potential hazard of the type which downed Concorde in Paris viz. seemingly innocuous debris on the runway. Navy personnel in the Goa area number about six thousand in total, substantially larger in size than the total Goa state police force of less than four thousand.
A new integrated terminal has been planned which now is under construction. The foundation stone was laid on 21 February 2009.
Less than a dozen airlines compete in the domestic market. There are 132 airports in India which can be categorised in sometimes overlapping ways into public sector, private sector, civil enclaves, international, metro, and non-metro. Of these, over 74 are connected at present. Dabolim is connected to only about ten Indian airports (about 35% of the most active ones in the network).
Dabolim's scheduled international flights are sporadic. These are operated only to the Persian Gulf region by the two state owned carriers Air India and Indian Airlines, who were granted a duopoly of this sector for a few years. Foreign carriers were for long disallowed from operating scheduled flights to or from Goa, but have recently started obtaining permission to do so.
Several European charter airlines fly to Goa seasonally, typically during the winter months.
Airlines and destinations
By 2005, total passengers had increased to 987,690 (1944 domestic plus 762 international passengers per day, year unspecified). The figure for 2004-05 was placed at nearly 1.3 million giving a daily average of 3467. Data for April 2005 and 2006 are given in an Airports Authority Of India report. The airport director has claimed that 2.2 million passengers used the airport in CY 2006. This rose to about 2.6 million in CY 2007. The airport is ranked among the top ten in the country in terms of passenger traffic. Airport authorities consider that it has been operating at saturation levels since 2004.
Military flight training
The military flight training at Dabolim is carried out on 5 days of the week from 0830 hrs to 1300 hrs, during which hours civilian flights cannot operate. Some exceptions have been made on rare occasions by the naval ATC, chiefly in the case of foreign airlines. Charter airlines carrying international tourists during the season tend to use the freer civil aviation regimes on weekends (Saturday and Sunday) and in the early morning hours. The blocked time is about 15% of the total on a weekly basis albeit during peak morning hours for civilian flights. Recently the Navy released a few hours blocked in the evenings on two weekdays, in favour of civilian flights.
Campaign to revert to civilian status
There has been a demand in local political circles for the restoration of Dabolim's civilian status by relocating the Indian Navy' air station to an airfield in the new INS Kadamba naval base at Karwar, 70 kilometres (43 miles) south of Dabolim in the adjoining state of Karnataka. However, the Indian Navy's top officers in Goa have hinted that the investment at Dabolim naval air station is 750 Crores and that it would be impossible to replicate this at Karwar.
In early 2007, there were reports of a concerted move by the Navy, the AAI, and the state of Karnataka to extend the runway planned at the naval base at Karwar to 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) to accommodate Airbus A320s and to acquire 75 extra hectares for this purpose. However there have been no corresponding plans announced so far to relocate flight training from Dabolim to this airport or any other more convenient place. Meanwhile plans for the naval air station at Karwar have been put on the back-burner.
The Mopa Option
Years ago the Navy accorded its approval to the civil aviation ministry's plans to locate a greenfield airport at Mopa in the northernmost tip of Goa. At the same time, the civil aviation ministry moved a resolution in March 2000 whereby Dabolim civil enclave would close once Mopa airport came on stream. The resolution was passed by the Union Cabinet. But opposition to such a prospect for historical and practical reasons, which was dormant since mid-2000, grew virulent in mid-2005 when ICAO submitted a report about the plans for the new Mopa "international" airport. It was felt that it would result in the closure of Dabolim civil enclave by default or by design.
Plans were then drawn up to upgrade Dabolim in the meantime at an estimated cost of Rs 500 crores (Rs 5 billion) and the consultant was asked to examine the feasibility of two airports in Goa. It has since given a tentative approval to a "dual airport" solution even in conjunction with the planned Dabolim upgrade. The upgrade consists of a congeries of plans evolving from 2000/2001 and consisting of (a) partial or complete demolition of the old terminal, (b) construction of a new "integrated" terminal, (c) a dozen aircraft parking bays/night parking bays, (d) aerobridges, (e)a parallel taxi track, (f) a captive power plant and (g) a multi-storied car park.
Meanwhile the Navy's title to Dabolim airport land has been questioned by a Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) of Goa in relation to the plan to relocate the civil enclave to the Mopa civilian airport on the grounds that it is the state government of Goa which authorises land transfers in its jurisdiction. He has disclosed that the Navy "literally" makes the state government and the Airports Authority of India "beg" for land needed at Dabolim airport. This made it imperative to establish the clear title to the airport land. Local Navy officials brushed off this argument as inconsequential given the passage of time.
The delays were apparently due to the structuring of these Dabolim deals as land-for-land at the instance of the Navy. This is in contrast to inter-governmental adjustments based on situation-specific military security assessments and demonstrable civilian needs. In this instance, one of the main sticking points was a small but crucial bit of land over which there was a fundamental difference of opinion between the Navy and the state government. The Navy alleged that "encroachment" was involved. A clearance for the expansion from the central Public Investment Board was also pending. Here the issues were the size and scope of the plan (such as the required aeronautical clearances given existing structures) as well as who would do the work on the parallel taxi track, AAI or the Navy.
The Goa government has now officially given an "in principle" approval to the civil aviation ministry to two airports in the state. The civil aviation minister has recently been propagating the vision of an airport in every district by 2020. Goa's two airports would conceivably be consistent with this. The high-powered committee has since submitted its final recommendation for a new airport at Mopa to the Prime Minister.
In the indications dribbling out in the interim (a) a "review" of the Union Cabinet's March 2000 decision to close Dabolim civil enclave on the opening of Mopa has been sought (b) Mopa is being tipped as an "international" airport while Dabolim would be "domestic" (c) estimates of the investment in Mopa range from $205 million to $400 million and a 33,000 square metres (360,000 sq ft) passenger terminal is envisaged (d) it is hoped that Dabolim civil enclave would be expanded/upgraded simultaneously (e) Mopa airport would be Code F or super-jumbo compatible (f) the exact status of the ground transport (north-south) connectivity of the two airports is still up in the air. Meanwhile the local base commander of the Indian Navy has urged the Goa government to expedite the Mopa airport project unambiguously drawing a line on the availability of any more land for civilian purposes. However an explicit two-airport system had yet to be studied in Goa.
Indian Navy's role
The early history of Dabolim naval air station is obscure but it is thought that it may have been hived off from Sulur IAF base near Coimbatore. But in 1983, the Indian Navy began inducting the BAE Sea Harrier into service, basing training activities at Dabolim. Now the base is expected to house four MIG-29KUBs that will be inducted into the navy with a complement of 12 single seater MIG-29Ks purchased with the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Russian navy's Admiral Gorshkov).
The MIG-29Ks are available and paid for but untried and untested anywhere in the operational context. A new round of flight training will begin in about a couple of years for the new planes.
A mock-up of the 283-metre (928 ft) deck (14.3 degree ski-jump and all) is being built at Dabolim airport for training purposes as the aircraft carrier is slated to be based at Karwar. The move is in anticipation of a delay in delivery of the Russian aircraft carrier from 2008 to 2012 at the earliest. The MIG-29Ks cannot operate from any other carrier. They were even heavier than what the Gorshkov was originally intended to accommodate and hence this was one of the reasons for the higher cost of the current refit.
India and Russia had struck a $1.5 billion "fixed price", package deal for the fire-disabled Gorshkov in January 2004. Just before the delivery of the aircraft carrier was due in August 2008, the Russians escalated their demand for the amount to $2.7 billion while extending the delivery date to 2012. A formal re-negotiation of the entire 2004 contract was imminent due to the recognition in the meantime of a complete change in original parameters on which a refit was based. The prospect now was for the amount to rise even further to $3.4 billion. Acceptance of such huge cost escalations raised serious questions about the fundamental reasons driving the Navy into the deal.
Meanwhile the maintenance, repair, and overhaul of the INS Viraat's Sea Harriers are carried out at the naval air station in Cochin. The Navy is in the process of mid-life upgradation of these fighters at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore. A number of Harriers have gone for upgradation being undertaken with the help of the fighter's manufacturers, British Aerospace.
The Indian Navy's fleet of about 30 Sea Harriers (including 6 two seater trainers) has, over the past two decades, been halved (with a loss of 7 pilots' lives), entirely due to crashes during "routine sorties" for unspecified failures. Only 3 trainer aircraft (two-seaters) remain, besides about 10 single-seater fighter aircraft. In 2006-7, there were four crashes of Sea Harriers, two of them while attempting vertical landings, of which one was during a multi-navy exercise at sea on INS Viraat and the other was at Dabolim airport on Christmas Eve morning, 2007. INS Viraat itself is at the end of its life cycle and spends much time in refits. Besides, about half the Indian Navy's submarines are also undergoing, or in need of, major repair at any point in time.
The spate of recent crashes had resulted in flight restrictions. This may be ameliorated by a deal under which the UK would supply four Sea Harrier air frames which could be cannibalised for spares. An offer to locate a Harrier post design service station in India to overhaul and maintain the Navy's Sea Harriers was also made.
Tying things down
Besides the operation of STOVL aircraft, the Sea Harriers, the Navy also operates the Kamov Ka-28 anti submarine helicopters, the IL-38 and TU-142M aircraft. Dabolim airbase also hosts exercises by the Indian Air Force's fighter bombers and it has facilities for the Indian Coast Guard which operates a fleet of small aircraft such as Dorniers. The beaches comprising 70% of Goa's 105-kilometre (65 mi) coast line are vulnerable to oil spills from the heavy tanker traffic in the Arabian Sea and capsizing of vessels engaged in coastal shipping as well as illegal discharge of dirty water from both. The Coast Guard is not yet able to operate at night. But the Indian Navy also carries out long range maritime patrols as far as the Horn of Africa from Dabolim using unarmed aircraft such as the Ilyushin Il-18. This activity has assumed significance recently due to a spate of pirate attacks in the area on maritime shipping involving Indian crews.
Of late the Navy has been displaying its 3-plane aerobatic team, based at Dabolim. The team comprises three Kiran aircraft which carry out aerobatic displays at various locations in the country. The team is used in one or two annual public events in Goa for flypasts of 15 to 20 minutes duration. The Navy also operates a naval aviation museum at Dabolim airport.
The Government of India appointed a new Navy chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, on 1 November 2006. The officer has had a long association with Dabolim naval air station and is a staunch proponent of its continuation in perpetuity. In conjunction with what he called the Navy's "low intensity maritime operations" he said it had averted "various threats".
Dabolim's potential for air cargo has not yet been seriously tapped. An estimated 5,000 tonnes (5,500 short tons) of cargo were handled annually as of a few years ago and may have declined since then. Meanwhile 90% of India's air cargo is concentrated in the top six airports together with Ahmedabad. Most of the country's air cargo is carried in the belly-space of airlines such as Air India rather than in dedicated freighters. There is no worthwhile cargo complex at Dabolim especially for perishables like fish, fruits, flowers and vegetables for which there is a significant export market in the Gulf countries. Meanwhile Goa's pharmaceutical companies carry out their export/import operations via Mumbai airport. The customs staff in Dabolim's vicinity are focused on ship cargo. The Goa Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GCCI) had been pleading for priority to air cargo for several years. The state government had even agreed, in principle, to allotting nearby land to AAI but there has been no perceptible progress in this direction.
Surface transport connectivity
Passengers can reach the airport using taxis, buses, trains, or automobiles. Public buses go to the nearby city of Vasco da Gama, approximately 4 km (2 mi) away, and also stop at the closer Chicalim bus stop, about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) from the airport. Local mini-buses connect both Vasco da Gama and Chicalim to the airport. Pre-paid taxis are available from the airport. There are various new transportation plans in the works, including the addition of a second bridge. Meanwhile plans for a 6-lane, north-to-south expressway are on hold in Goa. A monorail system is also being considered. All these plans have implications for the proposed Mopa airport and its link to Dabolim and Goa's population centres.
Railway tracks of Indian Railways, which also run through Goa, pass beside the airport. The nearest station is at Vasco da Gama city. The port at Mormugao is located about 5 km (3.1 mi) away.
Konkan Railway provides services to Margao in South Goa, Thivim (Tivim) in North Goa, Karmali and Ponda.
Incidents and accidents
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