Delayed departure

Updated on Jan 23, 2006 12:32 AM IST

Can India continue to dither on airport modernisation?

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PTI | ByVipul Mudgal

Debate is democracy's greatest asset but things can get depressing if it is followed only by more debate. At the root of India's endless ideological row over airport modernization are some obscure myths such as privatization compromises national security and a 'world class' airport means flashy terminals, expensive amenities and job losses.

More than the frequent fliers, a modern airport benefits those who hardly ever fly. The biggest beneficiary of China's airport modernization is the farmer in its backward middle kingdom. Even the leftists can't claim that the communist party has surrendered China's security concerns by privatizing or modernising major airports.

An Oxford Economic Forecasting study upholds many countries' experience that the expansion of air transport industry creates jobs, generates economic growth, increases tax revenues, and promotes tourism and social inclusion by connecting remote areas. In contrast, an inept infrastructure obstructs FDI, trade, tourism and economic activity besides hampering humanitarian relief operations in emergencies like tsunami or earthquakes.

HT research team tackles some myths surrounding airport modernization in these columns. The first write up offers a macro view of how modernization has created, rather than snatched, jobs in the rest of the world. The next write up examines some viable models of privatization, public-private partnerships and global security concerns. In the end we discuss how India can utilize the latest technologies to plan for the next 50 years.  

The global economic impact of air transport is a colossal $2.96 trillion or about 8 per cent of the world GDP. In India, it facilitates 40 per cent of foreign trade (against 75 per cent in China) and 95 per cent of foreign tourism. According to World Travel and Tourism Council figures, India's $11.3 billion travel and tourism industry, which largely depends on civil aviation, supports $ 23.8 billion in related economic activities.  These figures would have multiplied if we had not missed the nineties' tourism boom and used our geographical advantage to make India an Asian air transport hub.

Modernization of Delhi and Mumbai airports has missed many deadlines in the midst of a budget airline boom. International passenger traffic out of India has grown 17 per cent and domestic traffic 24 per cent this year. Already, 60 per cent of India's air passengers are budget travelers. With at least a dozen more no frill airlines waiting in the wings, the budget passenger rush is certain to choke the undersized airports even further. Can a resurgent India afford that?

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