ON December 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate Ayodhya International Airport. Both Air India and Indigo have already announced multiple flights into the city— from Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Don’t be surprised if in the next 12 months it becomes the country’s most connected airport. Such is the rush to get to Ayodhya and a darshan of Ram Lalla
But Ayodhya isn’t the only airport that will open its doors in 2024(strictly speaking commercial operations at Ayodhya Airport commence only in the first week of January), two other major airports will also commence operations in 2024—Noida International Airport(NIA) at Jewar in late 2024 and the long overdue Navi Mumbai International Airport, hopefully in December 2024.The airport is coming at least a decade behind schedule. But it is now on track and the airport should be operational in the next 12 months.
The searing pace of airport infra development that has kicked off across the country notwithstanding, India, although one of the top three aviation markets globally, has an extremely sketchy airport network that totals roughly 140 airports. Many of these airports are also defense assets with a civil enclave on one side, in a sense a military asset where the Airports Authority of India was allowed to set up shop commercial flights is a classic example.
Dabolim Airport in Goa that continues to be operational despite Manohar International Airport coming up in the South in Mopa. What it has done is create a competition that was lacking so far. AAI which couldn’t care less has now got its act together to compete with the GMR built and operated Mopa (Manohar International) Airport. From January to August this year Mopa and Dabolim airports handled 2.1 million and 4.8 million domestic passengers, respectively with the older airport double of Mopa. But AAI needs to be worried, Mopa has got its 2.1 million passengers in under a year. And it is more than likely that in the next 24 months, Mopa will overtake Dabolim considering that it operates round the clock while Dabolim has time restrictions because of the airport being a Navy base. So, what the AAI is doing is offering incentives to keep the airlines they have and enhance their footprint as well.
But look at it this way, it is not a battle for who has the larger numbers. These passengers translate into huge economic benefits for Goa—more tourists, more business and more industries. Politicians who at one time were bitterly opposed to the new airport are now singing a different tune and lamenting that it did it have to take so long for a second airport to come up.
It is a different type of challenge for both Navi Mumbai and Jewar —less for Mumbai and much greater for the NIA. Mumbai Airport is being connected to the Navi Mumbai airport via a new 35 km Airport Express Line metro. This will be operational at the very earliest at least a year after the airport is built. This was fast tracked only earlier this year and evidently there was much back and forth between departments before the project was green lighted. In the case of NIA, The Time of India reported on December 22, ‘’ earlier this month, the Uttar Pradesh Government approved a rapid rail corridor that will connect the Noida International Airport (NIA) with Delhi and other areas of the National Capital Region (NCR).
The proposed route will extend from the Ghaziabad rapid rail station on the Delhi-Meerut line. The approved proposal outlines a 72.3km rapid rail corridor to the NIA, which is expected to be completed by 2041.’’ So, this intent will not translate into a workable blueprint, financial and multiple other approvals before it sees the light of the day. So, what is NIA to do till all this happens?
In an enlightened decision-making environment, there would have been a high-speed rail project connecting Jewar to the Taj and Mathura operational by now and a similar high-speed operation into Delhi, Gurugram and other parts of the NCR also under completion by this time. The fact that it is under intent speaks poorly of our planning.
About two decades when Hong Kong’s new airport was coming up, the highspeed train connecting the airport to the city was ready almost a year before the airport was operationalised. That’s the vision we need to follow—not play catch up and not try to be completive only when there is competition.