Subject to clearance from the defence ministry, the Jayaprakash Narayan International (JPNI) Airport is headed further west - towards Bihta. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has agreed to the shift, given the severe constraints in runway expansion in Patna.
Talking to newspersons after a marathon meeting with chief minister Nitish Kumar in Patna on Thursday, AAI chairman VP Agarwal said the authority would explore option of constructing a civil enclave at Bihta.
"Since the Bihta airport, which comes under the IAF, has a runway length of 8,200 feet and is less utilised, we will prefer shifting the existing airport there, subject to defence clearance. Acquiring merely 500-800 acres on the western end of Bihta airport will enable us have a runway length of 9,000 feet, which is conducive for wide-bodied aircraft and enable operation of international flights," he said.
Agarwal lamented that with the Secretariat tower on one end and the railway cabin on the other, nothing much could be done for the development of the existing airport.
Asked about the option to build a new airport around Punpun, Agarwal said: "It can be considered for future." The Chief Minister had asked the AAI for a feasibility study of Punpun area, which was a low-lying one.
The AAI Chiarman said he had fruitful talks with the CM on expansion of the Gaya airport. "The State Government has acquired 100 acres land for expansion of the runway of the Gaya airport. This will enable us to expand the existing runway length from 7,500 feet to 9,000 feet, which will benefit international flights. Once that happens, even the Haj operation will be shifted from Patna to Gaya," he added.
The State Government also asked the AAI to develop its Raxaul, Muzaffarpur and Jogbani airports - all of which were abandoned for commercial operation was concerned. The AAI is willing to take up the Raxaul and Muzaffarpur airports gradually after additional land was acquired.
The AAI chief is believed to have shot down a suggestion to develop the Bhagalpur airport, as "it had quite a lot of population around it".
Bihar has 29 airfields - 18 of which were under the State Government, five each under the IAF and the AAI while the Kursela airstrip was a private licensed one.