Passenger traffic at the Jammu airport jumped soon after the load penalty for the strategically important airport was scrapped, allowing airlines to fly full capacity, officials said.
The airport saw 1,403 embarkations (departures) and 1,679 disembarkation (arrivals) on September 29. On September 30, when the penalty was scrapped, the number of departures jumped to 1,524 and disembarkations to 2,140, officials aware of the matter said.
On October 1, traffic further increased to 1,953 embarkations and 2,748 disembarkations, they said.
Prior to the September 30 move, there was a 30 per cent load penalty, which meant that airlines could book only 70 per cent of the seats available on a flight.
The Indian Air Force, which controls the Jammu airport, on September 30 issued a NOTAM (notice to airmen) that led to the removal of the 30 per cent load penalty on the airport, officials said.
This meant airlines could fly full loads or at 100 per cent capacity, they said, adding this should lead to lower fares and longer destinations.
Currently, Jammu airport handles 35 flights from different cities on a daily basis.
The load restriction meant that airlines either incur a loss on flying to Jammu or jack up fares to make up for the cost of keeping 30 per cent of seats empty.
The load restriction on airports is placed keeping in mind the length of the runway, its quality and heat factor.
Considering the importance of the airport, the administration under Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha proactively took up the issue with the DGCA, Airport Authority of India (AAI) and the Indian Air Force, leading to the issuance of the NOTAM on Thursday.
"The governance mindset has changed from lackadaisical to moving the needle," an official said. "The runway was extended and strengthened which allowed for night landings a couple of months back." Also, the issue involved market dynamics as well as traveller perception about the safety of Jammu and Kashmir.
There has been a steady rise in passenger footfall at the Jammu airport situated at Satwari, officials said, adding besides religious tourism, the scrapping of Article 370 has led to more trade and business visits.
Jammu provides air connectivity to the sacred and highly revered Vaishno Devi shrine and Amarnath cave.
The removal of load penalty will result in the cost of operations to Jammu for an airline reducing immediately, resulting in ticket prices coming down.
"On the same variable cost, they can now fly more passengers and so their cost of operations will come down," an official explained.
While the NOTAM was issued by IAF, it involved coordination with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and AAI and the trigger for change came from the government of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.