Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport has overtaken London's Gatwick to become the world's busiest airport operating with a single runway. With a plane either taking off or touching down every 65 seconds, the Airport operator and Mumbai air traffic control have a lot on their hands.
In financial year ending March 2017, Mumbai airport handled 45.2 million passengers, beating Gatwick's 44 million. An airport official said, “Currently, Mumbai airport handles 837 arrivals or take-offs in a day, an average of 80 flights more than Gatwick, which handles 757 movements in a day.” A senior air traffic controller said, “We position two arrivals every 130 seconds and one departure in between these two arrivals. So there is one take off or touch-down every 65 seconds from the main runway of Mumbai airport.”
Things, however, get tough when flight operations have to be moved to the less efficient secondary runway. “We broke Gatwick's record in such conditions. It shows the level of perfection air traffic controllers in Mumbai have achieved through rigorous training,” the controller said. While Mumbai airport has two cross runways, only one is used, making it an accidental entrant into the list of airports in single runway league. Gatwick faces a similar condition with two parallel runways but just one operational.
“Because of land constraints, Mumbai airport cannot have a parallel runway and simultaneous use of its cross runways is too complicated, which leaves the lone runway to handle all air traffic.”
Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL), the company that runs the airport, has been working at improving the taxiway network of the airport. The less time an aircraft spends on the runway to take off or land, more the number of flights it can handle. "Currently, work on extension of an existing taxiway is on to connect the Terminal 2 aircraft parking apron to runway 27. It will provide the much-required additional holding area for aircraft ready to take off on the main runway 27," said an MIAL spokesperson.