In a thrust to airport infrastructure in line with the fast pace of passenger traffic growth over the past couple of years, the government has envisaged development of 175 civilian airports to take the total number of operational airports up to 250 from 75 at present, at an estimated investment of up to Rs 3 lakh crore in the next 10-15 years. These estimates have been prepared by the Ministry of Civil Aviation after analysis of traffic trends over the years and projected growth over a decade-and-a-half.
Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said these estimates do not include the cost that will be incurred on acquisition of land. Most of the investment is likely to come from the private sector, even as the state-owned Airports of Authority of India (AAI) will play a key role in development. The Budget 2017-18 announced government’s plans to monetise AAI’s land bank of around 55,000 acres, and the funds generated from this exercise will be used to modernise existing airports and build new ones.
Domestic passenger traffic of India has grown to nearly 10 crore in the year so far, growing over 23 per cent year-on-year, making India the third-largest aviation market after the US and China. With major airports in Mumbai and Chennai bursting at the seams, lack of airport infrastructure is being seen as a major hurdle in the way of smooth expansion. Sinha said the government’s strategy to deal with the burgeoning traffic is threefold: Streamline and modernise existing terminals, build new terminals at existing airports and develop greenfield airports.
“We have been doing very detailed and thorough planning on a city-by-city level for airport capacity. Of course, passenger traffic in India has been growing dramatically and in the last three years since our government came in, it has almost doubled. And that really means that we have to be able to ensure sufficient airport and adequate airport capacity. Now when you look at airport capacity, you have to look at it really in three categories,” Sinha said in an interview with The Indian Express.
One, existing terminals in existing airports, which the government is streamlining and improving in many ways to enhance throughput and make much more convenient and comfortable passenger experience. “For instance, we are enabling self check-ins, we are working on security lines, putting in more counters, we are expanding terminals in some cases. For instance, if you look at Terminal 1D in Delhi, we expanded the gates and building so that you could have more gates where people can take buses. We are making existing terminals higher throughput, higher volumes through all of this efficiency improvements and that is happening in many airports,” he said.
Second, the government is focusing on building entirely new terminals. At Guwahati International Airport, for instance, the government is streamlining and improving the efficiency of existing terminal and starting the process of building a new terminal.
Greenfield airports are the third area where the government expects significant private sector interest. After awarding development and operations contract for Mopa International Airport in North Goa last year, the government is considering new airports at Pune and Guwahati. The Centre has already given an in-principle approval for 18 greenfield airports.
“We have new greenfield airports getting going in Goa, for instance, where GMR has just been awarded the Mopa Airport. We have a bidding process underway in Navi Mumbai where that will be awarded and a new airport will come up there and we are looking for an entirely new greenfield airport in Pune. So, that process is underway, the land has been identified and that whole process will start. And then finally even in Guwahati, we are considering a new greenfield airport, because Guwahati is a very important regional hub for us. We really want to make sure that we sufficient capacity in Guwahati,” he said.
Going by the past trends of passenger traffic growth, the government expects these volumes to triple in the next 10-15 years, which would require increasing of airport capacity by three times. “Because we need to triple our airport capacity, we have to invest somewhere between Rs 2.5 lakh crore and 3 lakh crore and we have to also pay for and find the land for it as well, and that near a big city is always a challenge … This estimate does not include land cost. It will primarily come from the private sector. Our role as the government is to ensure that we attract high-quality investors, high-quality operators into these airports. We have a well-developed scheme for private sector investors for the greenfield airports,” he said.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation intends to have an airport in every Indian city with population exceeding 10 lakh.
The government has granted “in-principle” approval for setting up of the 18 greenfield airports — Mopa in Goa; Navi Mumbai, Shirdi and Sindhudurg in Maharashtra; Bijapur, Gulbarga, Hasan and Shimoga in Karnataka; Kannur in Kerala; Durgapur in West Bengal; Dabra in Madhya Pradesh; Pakyong in Sikkim; Karaikal in Puducherry; Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh; Dholera in Gujarat and Bhogapuram in Vizianagaram district near Visakhapatnam, Dagadarthi Mendal in Nellore district and Oravakallu in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh.
The ministry has also granted “site clearance” approval for setting up of five greenfield airports — Machhiwara in Punjab; Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh; Jamshedpur in Jharkhand; Alwar in Rajasthan and Kothagudem in Telangana.
Further, the government will award operations and maintenance contracts in select airport in Tier-II cities under the public-private partnership mode. The AAI has already invited bids for O&M work at its Jaipur and Ahmedabad airports from private firms, who will be paid a fixed fee and variable incentives. The O&M operator will maintain facilities including passenger terminal building including the airport operations control centre, fire control room, boarding bridges, surface car park, ground handling services and all terminal approach roads.
“I think we will be well in excess of 250 airports in India from 75 operational airports at present. Right now, China has passenger traffic of about 45 crore, we are at about 14-15 crore (including international passengers), and they have about 300 operational airports. I will not be surprised that in 10-15 years, we are in the range of 250-300 airports. In city like Jamshedpur, which has a population of 14-15 lakh that does not have an airport large enough right now. Every city in India that has a population of above 10 lakh should get a high-quality airport,” Sinha said.