The standard reaction from the Government of India to any independent, international report that shows official goings-on in an unflattering light is denial. But unlike, say Aids figures, the current state of air travel in this country is not a matter of furious speculation — it is there for all to see. Clogged airports, chronic delays, tottering managerial policies, lack of manpower and cellotaped infrastructure have all contributed to make air travel in India nothing short of a nightmare. Confirmation of this comes in the form of a report published by the Pacific Area Travel Association at the world’s biggest tourism fair, the International Tourism Exchange, that concluded last week in Berlin.
The report points out that the number of international tourists to India have increased last year by 13 per cent to an unprecedented 4.4 million. But the 300-page report, ‘Total Tourism India’, also states that all the good work — such as the ‘Incredible India!’ campaign — is liable to be frittered away if something drastic is not done in terms of airports and air travel infrastructure. Air traffic in India has grown by roughly 40 per cent over the last year. And yet, the number of airports, not to mention expansion plans for existing airports in the metros, have crawled along. The government has seen it fit to bandy about licences to an increasing number of private players, the result of which is a boom in airline companies that has translated in more choice and cheaper tickets for consumers. But no matter how cheap flights become and how many flights are to-ing and fro-ing about, if schedules are not kept and passenger queues become unmanageable — as it has already become — the sector will simply crumble under its own weight.
Airport infrastructure should be ahead of demand, not lag behind it. Clearly, the government alone cannot keep up with the growing demand and has bitten off more than it can chew. It is necessary that private partners are roped in without any delay to enhance — nay, repair — airport infrastructure. If the fear of foreign tourists spreading the bad word manages to do the needful, we domestic travellers will be eternally grateful.