Airports in India are today recognised much more than just as the launch pads of the air travel for elites. Far more than a symbol, window or a showcase, these are even seen as magnets for foreign direct investment and scales of country's global competitiveness.
Our airports are yet to fully match the international standards but fortunately a sense of urgency and determination to do so is now much evident in Govt actions and plans.
Ninety seven per cent of India-bound foreign tourists arrive by air and the first impression they form after the touchdown lasts long. Govt is working hard to influence that 'first impression' as tourism is the nation's second largest foreign exchange earner.
Further, the cargo carried by air in India weighs less than 1 pc of the total cargo exported, it accounts for 35% of the total value of exports.
SITUATION AT PRESENT
There are 449 airports and airstrips in the country. Among these, the Airports Authority of India owns and manages 92 airports and 28 civil enclaves at defence airfields and provides air traffic services over the entire Indian airspace and adjoining oceanic areas. Various airlines are operating only through 61 airports.
Airports are presently classified in the following manner :
International Airports: These are declared as international airports and are available for scheduled international operations by Indian and foreign carriers. Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Calcutta and Thiruvananthapuram are in that category.
Custom Airports: These have customs and immigration facilities for limited international operations by national carriers and for foreign tourist and cargo charter flights. These include Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Calicut, Goa, Varanasi, Patna, Agra, Jaipur, Amritsar and Tiruchirapally.
Model Airports: These are domestic airports which have minimum runway length of 7500 feet and adequate terminal capacity to handle Airbus 320 type of aircraft. These can cater to limited international traffic, if required. These include Lucknow, Bhubaneshwar, Guwahati, Nagpur, Vadodara, Coimbatore, Imphal and Indore.
Other Domestic Airports: All other airports are covered in this category.
Civil Enclaves in Defence Airport: There are 28 civil enclaves in Defence airfields.
THE PROBLEM AREAS
Few International Airports: Experts feel that some more airports needed to be declared as international airports. These include Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Bangalore and Amritsar.
Congestion: There is congestion in international airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram and also domestic airports at Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Goa, Ahmedabad, Cochin and Mangalore. limited terminal and apron capacity, bunching of flights, delay in passenger clearances are mainly to blame.
Passenger amenities: Many airports still lack world class passenger amenities.
Technology: There are also deficiencies in respect of ground handling facilities, night landing systems and cargo handling at some airports.
THE FUTURE TRENDS
Considering the forecasts made by different organisations and taking a reasonably pragmatic view, the expected traffic scenario upto 2010-11 has been projected by the Foundation for Aviation and Sustainable Tourism.
During next 20 years, there is a quantum jump in the projected traffic - four times in passenger and six times in cargo traffic. It will, therefore, be necessary to take a host of measures so that the ground infrastructure keeps pace with the growth of traffic.
ICAO forecasts predict worldwide growth in air traffic at 5% a year or doubling in the volume of traffic once in 14 years. The Asia Pacific region is set for higher than average growth. According to an AUTC study, it might account for more than 50% of the world air traffic by the year 2010. It is imperative that our procedures improve and facilities grow to match the increase in Traffic volume.
THE KEY PROPOSALS
To develop the capacity of airports in accordance with the future projections, it has been proposed to reclassify the airports as follows:
International Hubs: This category may cover airports currently classified as international airports as well the 'model airports' eminently qualified to be upgraded as such.
Regional Hubs: Government is keen to encourage development of regional airlines based on small aircraft to provide air-linkages in the interior areas of the country. Regional hubs will have to act as operational bases for regional airlines and also have all the facilities currently postulated for model airports, including the capability to handle limited international traffic.
Other operational airports: These have been recommended to be developed so as to be cost-effective on the basis of individual needs. Airports serving State Capitals will be given priority.
There is a great potential for helicopter operations in movement of goods in remote, hilly and inaccessible areas, traffic management in metropolitan cities and so on. A plan will be formulated to boost the helicopter industry.
In view of the fact that there are already a sufficient number of airports, many of which are not viable, greenfield airports will normally not be taken up either in public or private sector without prior approval of the Government. In the case of Other Airport category run by private operators, the DGCA approval would suffice as at present.
Air traffic services: AAI will provide Air Traffic Services over Indian airspace and adjoining oceanic areas in accordance with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices. New CNS/ATM systems will be introduced on a priority basis to ensure total coverage of airspace in India.
Air Safety Planning: There will be greater civil-military liaison for joint surveillance of Indian airspace. Integration of Civil/Military Air Traffic Services will be developed to ensure uniformity in air-traffic control services at civilian and Defence airports.
Unidirectional air corridor concept shall be introduced, wherever traffic so justifies, in close liaison with the Defence authorities. Maximum use will be made of radars and other navigational aids available with civil and Defence airport authorities thus enhancing the overall route navigation and surveillance facilities.
A Central Control Unit will be established in order to monitor all flights in the country from the security point of view.
Commercial activities: About 70 pc of the total revenue of airport operators is generated from non-aeronautical sources at major airports across the world. In India, the comparable figure for AAI at international airports is just 22%. There will be a major thrust towards increasing the share of commercial revenue emerging from non-aeronautical sources.
Airport security: Special efforts have been initiated to upgrade airport security as per ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices laid down in Annexure-17 to the Chicago Convention. Govt recognises the urgent need to develop an exclusive airport security organisation.