Mumbai airport, the busiest single-runway airport in the world, broke its own record when it handled 980 arrivals and landings in 24 hours on January 20.
Though India’s second largest airport has the record breaking numbers, Gatwick airport, UK’s second largest airport, is still the most efficient single-runway airport in the world.
According to statistics from UK’s Airport Coordination Ltd, Gatwick single runway declared an aircraft handling capacity of 870 flight movements per day for summer 2018. But, unlike Mumbai airport, which is functional 24 hours a day, Gatwick handles most of its flights in the 19 hours between 5 am and midnight because of night time restrictions in force since 1971.
Gatwick single-runway’s peak handling capacity is 55 air traffic movements (landings or take offs) an hour, while Mumbai has touched 52 movements an hour. However, unlike Mumbai, which rarely handles 52 movements an hour, Gatwick runway frequently handles 55 movements/hour daily during the peak hours between 6 am and 7.50 am; 10 am and 1.50 pm and 3 pm and 7.50 pm. Mumbai, on the other hand, handles an average of around 48 movements in peak hours.
“The most important difference between Gatwick and Mumbai is the environment the two airports are set in,” says a senior air traffic controller from Mumbai. “Mumbai airport functions in a space-starved, infrastructure-constrained environment, unlike any other. More flights can’t be added onto Mumbai’s single runway without a holistic approach that takes into account the ground realities, India’s regulatory framework, human factors etc,” he added.
The ground realties of the two airports are in stark contrast. London is served by four airports—Heathrow the largest followed by Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. Heathrow has two simultaneously operational runways and the rest each have one, making it a total of five available runways for London-bound flights.
Mumbai, on the other hand, is served by only one airport (Juhu airport runway cannot handle airline flights). The runway infrastructure available for Mumbai-bound flights is a set of cross runways, a main runway and a smaller secondary runway, with only one of the two operational at a time. “If the main runway has to be shut because of an emergency, airport operations are crippled,’’ he added.