Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has the power to approve import of planes and construction of airports, but he seems stuck when it comes to developing airports on his home turf.
Singh had asked the Uttar Pradesh government to transfer airstrips at Meerut, Faizabad and Moradabad to the Airports Authority of India. He had also sought land from the state to develop facilities at the Agra and Allahabad airports. However, there have been no developments on these fronts because of alleged lack of support from the state administration. “Why is the local government not taking any interest? Even a small state like Chhattisgarh is promoting aviation,” complains the minister. “Development of aviation will only improve connectivity to tier-II and tier-III cities. It is vital for the economy.”
Singh says the number of persons travelling from UP to the Persian Gulf is higher than than from Kerala, while the number of flights from UP is substantially less. UP handles less than two per cent of aviation traffic, with most of its residents flying via Delhi, he says.
“Agra handles nearly 500 flights a year, all of which are non-scheduled or charter flights. It is an air force airfield and we want to develop a civil enclave. The defence minister has agreed to this and we would require 50-60 acres to develop passenger amenities, terminal and access. The district administration has identified land but I have not received a response from the state government,” said the minister.
He claimed Airbus was also keen to set up maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities at Meerut. “AAI is preparing plans for the airports,’’ Singh said, refusing to divulge the cost of modernising the airstrips.
However, not all agree with him. Some say developing airports in places such as Meerut or Moradabad could be a loss-making proposition. “Developing airports for fixed-wing planes involves a lot of cost. There is no potential in some of the small towns and it will just be a waste of funds,” says an expert.
He says the government had proposed setting up helipads at all district headquarters across the country. “That would have helped in connectivity and be useful in disaster management, but the plan is still on paper,” he adds. Singh’s response to such comments: “Our focus is on connectivity. We are amending the route dispersal guidelines, facilitating more flights to tier-II and tier-III cities with small planes.”
Airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad handle 70 per cent of the air traffic in India. The Delhi-Mumbai route accounts for nearly 40 per cent of all passengers flown, according to a civil aviation ministry report. Around 60 million passengers flew in 2011, up 16 per cent over the previous year. The sector’s growth has slowed in 2012.