India’s 50 busiest airports to breach capacity this year
At least 25 of the 50 busiest airports in India are already operating beyond their capacity, while almost all the others will reach optimal capacity in 2018-19 with the aviation industry growing at an unanticipated 18-20% every year, according to government documents accessed by Hindustan Times through the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
This holds true for both government and privately run airports, the documents show. Key airports such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Pune are already saturated, while Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Goa and Lucknow are among important aviation hubs that will reach full capacity by the end of the year. Experts say the figures only show overall capacity, but in peak hours, all these airports operate beyond capacity — leading to long queues at check-in counters, security risks because of compromised frisking, and clogging of gates leading to flight delays.
According to the civil aviation ministry, India has witnessed a phenomenal growth — the highest in the world — in the sector in the last four years and is already the world’s third-largest domestic aviation market. Smaller airports such as Leh, Surat, Tirupati, Jodhpur and Silchar are also operating beyond capacity.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on May 2 approved investments in expansion and upgradation of integrated terminals in Chennai, Guwahati and Lucknow by the Airports Authority of India at a cost of Rs2,467 crores, Rs1,232 crores and Rs1,383 crores, respectively.
Minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha, while announcing the expansion work, had said that Rs1 lakh crore would be invested to increase the capacity of Indian airports.
But passengers will have to bear the brunt until these are completed over the next 3-4 years, according to experts.
“The infrastructure work should have been planned years ago. Now when the situation has reached the alarming stage, government has started expansion again. The focus should be now on new technologies such as biometric access, self-check-in to reduce congestion while the expansion work should continue alongside,” said D Sudhakara Reddy, founder of the Air Passengers Association of India (APAI).
The government has launched a new initiative called NABH (also called NextGen Airports for Bharat) Nirman to enhance capacity by five times to one billion trips in the next 10-15 years. India has 94 operational airports at the moment — it expects to inaugurate six more within a month, with Pakyong as the 100th operational airport.
Increasing capacity requires both development of greenfield airports and expansion of existing airports; this will be funded by private sector companies and AAI internal accruals and by leveraging their balance sheet. Greenfield airports are where there is no existing infrastructure and a new area is developed, while in a brownfield airport, the existing infrastructure is upgraded.
AAI is also in the process of implementing plans to create additional capacity in airports such as Agartala, Patna, Srinagar, Pune, Trichy, Vijayawada, Port Blair, Jaipur, Mangalore, Dehradun, Jabalpur, Kolhapur, Goa, Rupsi, Leh, Calicut, Imphal, Varanasi and Bhubaneswar with a capital expenditure of Rs 20,178 crore in the next 4-5 years.
Some major cities are expected to get multiple airports -- Navi Mumbai, Noida International (Jewar), Mopa (Goa), Purandar (Pune), Bhogapuram (Visakhapatnam), Dholera (Ahmedabad), and Hirasar (Rajkot) have already been approved.
In the private sector, upgradation and expansion is in the offing for the Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad airports which will require an estimated investment of Rs 25,000 crore over the next 5 years, according to ministry officials.
The country’s busiest airport, Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International, handled 65.6 million passengers in 2017-18 and is all set to cross its capacity of 70 million this financial year.
Expansion work in Delhi is expected to be completed by 2021 to take the overall capacity to 85 million per annum, following which second phase of expansion will begin, which includes the construction of a new terminal.
India’s second-busiest airport, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International, handled 48.5 million passengers in 2017-18, above its capacity of 45 million. A new terminal in Mumbai will take at least three years to be built. “We are on a constant growth path and will continue to sustain the momentum,” said a spokesperson for Mumbai airport.
The Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru -operated by Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) -served a record 26.91 million passengers in 2017-18, registering growth of 17.6% over the previous fiscal.
“The capacity of the existing terminal at the Bengaluru airport is 20 million passengers per annum, and we are currently operating at over 30% beyond capacity. We are also working on the enhancement of physical infrastructure in terms of additional bus bays, self-check-in counters, etc. Simultaneously, BIAL continues to use technology and digital initiatives to enhance capacity,” said a spokesperson for the company.
The only airport that appears to be an exception is Cochin, which handled 10 million passengers in 2017-18 against its capacity of 21 million.
“What we have been doing so far are stop-gap arrangements, and despite numerous initiatives, Indian airports are congested. In peak hour, the situation become worse and expansion should be planned keeping in mind the peak hour traffic,” said Mark Martin, founder and CEO of Martin Consulting, which operates in the aviation sector.