India is witnessing phenomenal growth in the aviation sector. Currently, we are the world’s third largest domestic aviation market behind the USA and China. International Air Transport Association (IATA), the premier trade association of world airlines, has forecasted that by mid-2020, India is expected to displace the United Kingdom as the third largest aviation market in the world.
But this skyrocketing growth is resulting in the country’s airports running out of capacity. Having aimed to achieve 1 billion passenger trips in the next 10-15 years, the government is aware that this cannot be achieved with existing airport capacities. Therefore, it has launched an initiative called NABH (Next-Gen Airports for Bharat) Nirman to expand capacities five folds — Rs 1 lakh crore will be invested towards this aim within the next five years.
This will usher in a new era of multi-airport system (MAS) in our country. MAS is defined as two or more significant airports serving commercial air traffic in a metropolitan area. That means development of greenfield airports (new airports on fresh land) in Delhi/Jewar, Mumbai, Pune etc. will result in these areas having flights from multiple airports.
The reasons for evolution of MAS vary across the world. In the US and Europe, this model emerged due to development of secondary airports. In Asia, it was due to capacity constraints at existing airports.
But world over, the MAS is being seen as an effective solution to airport congestion problems and to meet future demands. Even in Asia, cities of Osaka, Manila, Jakarta, Tehran, Islamabad, Colombo and Bangkok have MAS. Airports located within a distance of 125 km or a driving time of one-two hours from a city centre can also be a part of the MAS.
With the ‘open sky policy,’ India has witnessed intense competition amongst airlines. The emergence of MAS will bring a hitherto unheard of competition amongst the airports to attract the maximum number of airlines and passengers. The coming decades will see such airports marketing facilities by offering lower airport charges, quality services, amenities etc. Lower airport charges will mean reduced cost of flight operations for the airlines and cheaper tickets for the passengers making them prefer such airports.
The government, however, needs to tread the MAS route carefully. Errors in planning and rigid policies can result in failure of MAS and waste of public money. It has happened before. Washington/Dulles, which was planned as a major DC airport, has struggled to take off — at risk are thousands of jobs.
While the MAS is a future requirement for Pune, the defence ministry has opposed continuing commercial use of Lohegaon airport once the Purandar airport is operational. But going by the hundreds of crores of rupees being pumped in by the civil aviation ministry for the expansion of Lohegaon airport, it is unlikely that the Airports Authority of India will not allow commercial operations from this profitmaking general aviation hub to be stopped.
While deciding on this sensitive matter, both the central and state governments must strike a balance between the country’s commercial and national interest. After all, national security is paramount and must not be compromised at any cost.
Source: Times of India