The Bihta airport of the India Air Force (IAF) will be developed as an alternative to the existing Patna airport.
The Centre gave its nod to commencing civil operation from the Bihta airbase after a high-level meeting between the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) secretary RN Choubey and the state chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh on Thursday. Vice chief of air staff BS Dhanoa also attended it.
The Centre also gave the state an option to have two civil aerodromes — the one at the existing location and another at Bihta — as part of its short and medium term proposals to cater to a burgeoning air traffic, with an estimated passenger footfall of eight million by 2025.
As part of a long-term solution, the Centre left it to the state government to give 5,000 acre land to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for developing a new Greenfield airport. The Centre was clear that it would not give the state any money for airport land.
Choubey said: “As part of the AAI policy, we will bear the entire cost of developing airport infrastructure, but not give money to the state for land or paying compensation to rehabilitate settlements.”
To continue with operations at the present location, Choubey suggested swapping of equitable state government land of the Bihar hangar and the Special Task Force, a total chunk of 11.5 acres, with AAI land at Anisabad. If given, the AAI would expand the terminal building to cater to an increasing passenger traffic, and allow continuation of operation from the existing location, while simultaneously developing Bihta for bigger aircraft.
With 32% passenger growth in 2015-16, Choubey accepted that the Patna airport faced a space crunch. Against an annual passenger footfall of 1.5 million, he said it had space only to cater to half a million passengers.
Sources said the Centre also set aside the state government’s present suggestion of shifting the existing airport to Silao in Nalanda, where the state was willing to give 1,250 acre of land. The Centre was of the view that having to travel a distance of 65km from the state capital was not in passenger interest. The Centre, however, said the state government was free to build a new airport there either through its resources or by entering into a joint venture for operation of smaller aircraft.
It also practically negated the option of shifting to the location marked in the master plan around Punpun, as the area was a low-lying one, requiring extensive earth filling, with no existing drainage facility.
Chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh said: “We are exploring all options — Bihta, Rajgir, Fatuha and Punpun for development of airport.”