Short of funds and fearing revenue losses, India's airport operator has shelved plans to upgrade the 35 non-metro airports at the same time, and target only a few big ones among them, a government official has said.
"We are now targeting 10-12 major non-metro airports to meet the deadline," an Airports Authority of India (AAI) official said.
"These projects should be complete by the end of 2009-10 fiscal (the deadline set by the government). Big projects cannot be put on hold. Upgrading of smaller airports would be deferred," said the AAI official requesting anonymity.
AAI was granted a "Mini Ratna" status that allows it to take up investments up to Rs 5 billion (Rs 500 crore/$103 million) at any airport without seeking prior government approvals. "But as AAI is short of funds, the new status is not of much help," the official added.
AAI fears a revenue loss of at least 15 percent this fiscal. According to official data, domestic and foreign carriers owe AAI about Rs 11.7 billion (Rs 1,170 crore).
AAI charges airlines for providing services such as landing, parking, terminal and route navigation facilities, in addition to renting out land and buildings to operators for office space and building engineering facilities.
The state-owned National Aviation Co, which operates Air India, has outstanding dues of Rs 6.53 billion (Rs 653.10 crore).
The two leading private domestic carriers, Kingfisher Airways and Jet Airways, account for about Rs 2.55 billion (Rs 255 crore) and Rs 360 million (Rs 36 crore) respectively in dues to AAI.
Similarly Spice Jet, Paramount, Indigo and Go Air owe Rs 210 mn (Rs 21 crore), Rs 100 mn (Rs 10 crore), Rs 50 mn (Rs 5 crore) and Rs 79.8 mn (Rs 7.98 crore) respectively. Foreign airlines have outstanding dues of around Rs 1.58 billion (Rs 158 crore).
"We have not been able to recover the dues from airlines in time, which has also further aggravated our financial needs," said an AAI finance department official.
The economic slowdown has hit India's aviation industry as the number of fliers have fallen sharply. This has spelt more trouble for AAI.