Panaji: Taking advantage of the suspension of flights due to the coronavirus lockdown, the Indian Navy has commenced maintenance and repairs of the runway at the Goa International Airport at Dabolim.

The maintenance activity, being done by the Military Engineer Services (MES), will continue till May 7, officials said. “INS Hansa has issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) informing about closure of the runway till May 7,” Goa airport director Gagan Malik said.

The repairs, which began on April 25, have been going on even as the navy and Airports Authority of India coordinate international relief flights which are evacuating foreign nationals who are stranded in Goa due to the lockdown.

Till date, 33 international rescue flights have airlifted 6416 foreigners along with 58 infants from Goa, said Malik.

High frequency operations and heavy monsoons have deteriorated the runway, necessitating periodic repairs. Now, with domestic and international flights suspended, the navy has decided to strengthen the lone runway which serves civilian as well as military flights.

According to the NOTAM, currently the maintenance work is being done in the afternoon, from 2pm to 7pm. From May 1, the work will be undertaken from 6.30am to 12.30pm.

“This is regular pre-monsoon maintenance to ensure the health of the runway and to prevent foreign object damage to the aircraft engines. During the monsoons if there is any damage then no repairs can be done,” said a naval official.

For flight safety reasons, the runway requires regular attention and maintenance from drainage clearing to resurfacing of broken patches.

Runway markings also need to be visible during the monsoons, when visibility drops due to heavy rainfall, said a source.

During regular operations, civilian flights are allowed to land throughout the day except for a six hour block during weekdays and for 24 hours on weekends. This leaves very little time for repairs, officials said.

In September last year, the Indian Navy had proposed to close the runway for arrivals and departures for six hours every Saturday for maintenance. But since the move coincided with the charter flight season, the maintenance time was reduced.

Along with the runway, the taxiway and other movement areas are being repaired based on requirements.