The Ministry of Civil Aviation is working on a blueprint to extend the Juhu runway in Mumbai to the beach so that the airport, which currently accommodates only light helicopters, can be used for corporate and regional carriers and turbo-prop aircraft.
This will give Mumbai a much-needed secondary facility, easing the congestion that is building up in the current airport despite the modernisation programme.
Extending the Juhu runway is expected to free 10 to 15 per cent of Mumbai airport's current capacity, which is more than 700 air traffic movements per day. The airport handled 25.8 million passengers last fiscal and traffic is growing at 25 per cent a year.
The proposal is to increase the length of the Juhu runway from the current 3,750 feet to a minimum of 5,500 feet at a cost of Rs 500 crore.
"The proposal is at an advanced stage. The Airports Authority of India recently sent its team to Mumbai and things are likely to move in the next six months," said KN Srivastava, joint secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Initially, AAI will handle the Juhu redevelopment scheme. Once the airport is developed, it can be operated under a private-public partnership. AAI is expected to invite tenders soon.
Meanwhile, the government has also received a proposal from Mumbai International Airport Ltd to extend the runway even further into the sea from the beach to accommodate larger aircraft so that Juhu can operate as a second airport for bigger passenger aircraft also.
Another simultaneous runway to serve air traffic into Mumbai has become important because there are fears that the second airport at Navi Mumbai, the first phase of which is likely to be operational by 2012, absorbing 10 million passengers, might not meet the project deadline as the Ministry of Civil Aviation is at loggerheads with the Environment Ministry over clearances.
The current airport, which is being troubled by issues over resettlement of slum dwellers on its land, does not have space for a simultaneous runway.
The Juhu extension project involves filling 384.45 acres of land because the airport is in a bowl and is prone to floods.
The extension is also hindered by the Juhu-Tara Road, a major public crossing through the airport, which may be diverted though an underpass.
Encroachments on 50 acres may also slow the project since it involves shifting 5,000 people apart from requiring environment clearances.
The proposal to extend the runway to the sea has attracted interest from MIAL. "If the orientation of the Juhu runway is changed then the International Civil Aviation Organisation will allow simultaneous operations," said an MIAL executive requesting anonymity.
"It can then be possible to link Santa Cruz airport to Juhu by a taxiway that can act as a bridge between the two airports as the distance between the edge of the two runways is barely 800 metres," the official added.