The Pune customs department has started the process for granting approval of international air cargo movement from Lohegaon airport. "We are taking up the matter with the finance ministry before we formally communicate our decision to the concerned airport authorities," Pune customs commissioner R Sekar told TOI on Tuesday. He added that the clearance process won't take much time to complete.
International cargo movement from the airport remains one of the long-pending demands by corporates in Pune. There exists a vast potential for such cargo movement, considering that almost 40 per cent of the international freight moving out of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) near Mumbai, originates from Pune and adjoining districts. Lack of adequate space at Lohegaon airport for handling international and domestic cargo has been a major constraint in exploiting the potential.
The airport is only catering to domestic cargo movement for now while all international cargo is being moved through customs bonded (ie sealed) trucks from the Inland Container Depot (ICD) at Dighi, located 15 km from the city along the Alandi road. The same goes to the JNPT.
In May, two senior officials from the Airports Authority of India (AAI), New Delhi, visited Lohegaon airport to inspect a 10-acre site proposed for the integrated air cargo complex near the airport. The AAI general managers Y K Goel (cargo) and D P Singh (corporate planning) then held a meeting with different stakeholders, including representatives of airlines, cargo agents and customs officials to assess the measures required for international cargo services.
As an immediate step, the AAI, Pune, then suggested the idea of starting with international cargo movement by developing and using the existing area at the airport and simultaneously pursuing the cargo complex plan on a long-term basis. The AAI had since moved a plea with the Pune customs department seeking the latter's in-principal' approval for international cargo operations.
"We are waiting for their (customs) in-principal nod," Pune airport director Deepak Shastri said, adding, "Once we get the approval, we will start raising the necessary infrastructure for customs clearance, cargo storage etc."
According to Sekar, the in-principal approval was not as much an issue for the customs department as it was to keep the finance ministry in the loop over matters involving export/import operations. "Much also depends on the kind of business that will be generated from the upcoming facility at the airport," he said. "We are examining all issues and will soon communicate our views to the AAI," he added.
The customs department will require facilities such as a cargo shed for import and export consignments, examining areas, X-ray machines, seating area for customs officials, computers and allied equipment.
As of now, the airport has a 40 sq m (approx) facility located in front of the main terminal building, which is being used for domestic freight movement. "We have plans to start with international cargo ops from a 500 sq m space," said Shastri, adding that customs officials have inspected the proposed site and have also gone through the area sketches.
Pune airport was declared a customs airport on January 17, 1997, primarily for export of perishable agriculture produce items like flowers, fruits, vegetables and processed food. On December 9, 2005, the customs department issued another notification (No 108/2005 - Cus - N.T) allowing unloading of imported goods and loading of export goods or any class of such goods. However, all this was subject to customs clearance process at the ICD, Dighi facility, instead of the airport.