A steep rise in passenger traffic at all five operational airports in Andhra Pradesh this year has come as good news for the state which plans to connect each of its 13 districts by air. The state is among the frontrunners in the Centre’s plan to reopen tens of disused airstrips and build no-frills airports.
The five operational airports in Andhra Pradesh — Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada, Tirupati, Rajahmundry and Kadapa — have together registered 51 per cent growth in passenger traffic between April and October this year, compared with the same period last year. Total passenger traffic during the seven-month period stood at 1.26 million, compared with 830,000 a year ago.
The airport in Visakhapatnam, the largest city in the recently-truncated state, catered to 800,000 passengers, marking 45.1 per cent growth from the corresponding period last year. Footfall at Vijayawada, the new state capital, almost doubled during this period. Tirupati Airport, home to one of the richest temples in the world, saw a 50.6 per cent rise in passenger traffic.
Last month, top government officials met potential bidders for the six new greenfield airports — L&T Construction, Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited, GMR Airports, Shapoorji Pallonji and Essel Infrastructure.
The biggest among these will be Bhogapuram international airport, 40 km north-east of Visakhapatnam. Interestingly, Bhogapuram is in Vizianagaram, home district of civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju. The project will come up on 5,311 acres of land, including 1,673 acres of government property, and will be built by Bhogapuram International Airport Company Limited (BIACL), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) owned by the state government. The airport will be developed as part of an aerotropolis, which will also have a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility along with an aviation academy.
If everything goes as per plan, only two district — Anantapur and West Godavari — would be left without commercial airports of their own. Anantapur already has an airstrip in Puttaparthi owned by Sri Sathya Sai Trust. While it is being used by only chartered flights, it can easily be expanded into a no-frills airport. On the other hand, West Godavari district will be served by Rajahmundry Airport for domestic flights and Vijayawada Airport for international flights.
According to sources, preparations for bidding of two no-frills airports — Dagadarthi in Nellore district bordering Tamil Nadu, and Orvakallu in Kurnool district bordering Telangana — are in the final stage. With this, the state plans to cater to its residents who travel to Hyderabad or Chennai for air travel.
The state government has already tied up with Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) for a loan of Rs 1,700 crore to facilitate land acquisition. Of this, Rs 1,500 crore is for land purchase in Bhogapuram where notice to acquire 5,311 acres of land was issued in August. The remaining Rs 200 crore is for Dagadarthi (1,350 acres) and Orvakallu (1,081 acres).
Earlier this year, the government had announced multiple incentives for both airport developers and airline companies. In its aviation policy, the government also offered to pay for some of the seats in the flights operating on new routes.
According to sources, most potential bidders have asked for concession period of more than 60 years, instead of the existing 30-year norm. They also want freedom to use the land for commercial and residential purposes to ensure project viability. The state government is expected to respond to these demands before launching the formal bidding process for Dagadarthi and Orvakallu airports.
The government is also said to be in talks with the management of Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) to develop a private no-frills airport at Kuppam — the home town of Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. Earlier, neighbouring Karnataka had opposed to this proposal as BIAL concession agreement says that no other civil airport can operate within a 150-km radius “exclusive zone”.