December 7, 2021

Where will 100 new airports come up by 2024?

100 new airports come up by 2024

Source: Money control

There are 53 urban clusters in the country that have a population of a million plus. But there are very few among them that do not have access to air transport. There definitely is scope, but the approach may need to involve having a mix of heliports and seaplanes as well

100 new airports come up by 2024

Earlier this year, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an ambitious project: adding 100 new airports by 2024. These include heliports as well as seaports and would see the number of operational aerodromes double from the 100 or so operational new airports pre-Covid in India.

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While the focus is shifting rapidly to get new airports operationalised, the real question is where would they come up? There are 53 urban clusters in the country that have a population of a million plus and among these there are few cities that do not have access to air transport.

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These 53 include areas such as Ghaziabad and Faridabad, which are serviced by New Delhi airport, or Vasai-Virar, which is serviced by Mumbai airport. Both New Delhi and Mumbai are slated to get a second airport in the next few years. Similarly, Thrissur, Kollam and Malappuram are serviced by Kochi, Trivandrum and Kozhikode, respectively.

Where are the gaps in connectivity for new airports?

By population, Meerut, Jamshedpur, Kota and Dhanbad remain the four urban clusters without an active airport in the city or in the vicinity. Ironically, all three have new airports that have one issue or the other. Jamshedpur had seen active air service by Air Deccan and Kingfisher Airlines. The airport was one of the first to be up for grabs under the RCS-UDAN scheme but Air Deccan couldn’t offer services. Obstacles on the approach path make it impossible for ATR aircraft to land at Jamshedpur. The city is a prime candidate for a greenfield airport
As for Meerut, the Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS), which plans to connect Delhi to Meerut, could sound the death knell for the airport since a cheaper and viable option would be available to connect to the country’s largest airport, with options to fly across the country round the clock

Dhanbad, which currently relies on Durgapur, has limited connectivity. While an old airfield exists, little effort has gone in to revamp and operationalise it. Kota, famous for its coaching classes, also has issues with the length of the runway, leading to lack of air connectivity.

Where are the gaps in infrastructure?

Interestingly, a look at the map of operational new airports in the country throws up some areas where there aren’t any operational airports. They include the area from Hyderabad to Allahabad and up to the Jharkhand-West Bengal border and parts of Central India.

It is often stated that there were over 400 air strips when the British left India and they could be converted into new airports. The argument is often supported by adding the routes that Vayudoot operated in the 1980s. However, the air strips are currently in a dismal state.

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One of the regions between Hyderabad and Allahabad, which is devoid of operational new airports, has air strips listed at Warangal, Yavatmal, Ambikapur, Jashpur, Raigarh, Bhilai and Bilaspur. However, hardly any of them are in a usable state and the ones that are have not attracted any attention even in RCS-UDAN. Interestingly, the region is rich in minerals and has a lot of state and private companies operating in the mineral excavation and trading areas.

In the central Indian region, both north and south of the Vindhyas is an agriculture-rich belt that will benefit a lot from airlines offering cargo services in addition to passenger services. One such connection in the region is Jalgaon, which has connectivity to Ahmedabad under RCS-UDAN, while others remain unconnected

Where will the focus be?

PM Modi inaugurated the seaplane service between Sabarmati riverfront and Kevadia on October 31, 2020. This is the first of the many seaplane routes that have been bid and handed out under the RCS-UDAN scheme. Getting a seaplane route operational requires far lesser investment from the state as compared to an airport, which can be stuck in multiple legal cases, face land acquisition issues and at times is at the mercy of State governments.

The focus is definitely going to be on seaplane services and heliports and with the majority of urban areas covered, the focus also seems justified since the state could potentially fund more routes on smaller aircraft or a helicopter as compared to funding a route with 70+ seater aircraft and not be able to attract traffic

However, private entities and the government shouldn’t lose focus on capacity enhancement at metro and major Tier-I airports. There is little traffic, if any, between any two Tier III airports and thus the demand is and will continue to be to travel to Tier I or metro airports for trade and business.

So, will 100 new airports, seaports and heliports be possible in the next four years? The answer could well be No, unless there are dedicated helicopter airlines since the segment is currently reliant only on the state-owned Pawan Hans, which has been up for privatisation, without success.
Ameya Joshi runs the aviation analysis website Network Thoughts.

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