Dr G. Mohapatra

“Traffic growth projections of 12.1 per cent over the next five years augur well for the sector”

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) is continuously striving to improve the airport and air navigation system (ANS) infrastructure in the country. With a steady increase in traffic growth, capacity augmentation plans have been put in place for most airports, with a focus on regional connectivity, in line with the aims of the National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP). Indian Infrastructure spoke to Dr Guruprasad Mohapatra, chairman, AAI, about its key initiatives, current priorities, and future plans. Excerpts…

How has the civil aviation sector progressed in the past one year?

The civil aviation sector contributes significantly to the process of economic development. As far as India is concerned, we are the ninth largest aviation market with traffic showing almost double-digit growth. Policy initiatives and the modernisation of both airport as well as ANS infrastructure have propelled the Indian aviation sector to a high-growth path and we aim to be the third largest aviation market very shortly.

Going by absolute figures, the sector has seen unprecedented growth in the past one year. We registered a strong growth in 2015-16 compared to the previous year, with aircraft movement growing by 11.9 per cent, total passenger movement growing by 17.6 per cent and total freight growing by 7 per cent. Domestic passenger traffic increased from 139 million in 2014-15 to 169 million in 2015-16, registering an impressive growth of 21.6 per cent, while international passenger traffic increased from 51 million in 2014-15 to 55 million in 2015-16, a growth of 7.7 per cent.

What were the key initiatives undertaken by AAI over the past year?

On the airport development front, there has been steady progress. New terminal buildings have been commissioned at Mohali, Khajuraho, Kadapa and Tirupati airports. Foundation stones have been laid for new terminal buildings at Vijayawada and Gorakhpur. Extension of runways, expansion of aprons and construction of parallel taxi tracks have been taken up at various airports across the country to enhance airside capacity.

On the cargo front also, several initiatives have been taken, including a plan for creating common user domestic air cargo terminals at 24 AAI airports in a phased manner. The corporatisation of cargo operations has also been approved by AAI’s board.

On the ANS front, AAI has taken long strides by adopting state-of-the-art technologies, including GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation (GAGAN), Central Air Traffic Flow Management (CATFM) and automation systems for air traffic control. Green initiatives like CATFM, the implementation of area navigation (RNAV) routes as well as the implementation of approach procedures with global navigation satellite system (GNSS) have been put in place to reduce fuel burning and, in turn, carbon emissions. Green initiatives have also been taken at airports in the form of solar energy use and light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. Further, around 4.6 MW of rooftop solar power plants and 19.8 MW of ground-mounted solar plants are being installed. There are plans for the replacement of all internal and external lighting at 15 airports with LED lights during 2016-17.

For greater efficiency and transparency, AAI launched an improved online system (NOCAS Ver. 2.0) for the issue of height clearance for high-rise constructions, to reduce the time taken in the grant of clearances. Biometric access control systems are planned to be installed at major airports by October 2016.

To address capacity constraints, there was a need to augment the capacity of terminals, airside infrastructure and ANS infrastructure at many AAI airports. To this end, AAI prepared a roadmap and action plan. Project management consultants have been roped in to expedite the detailed planning and design of infrastructure and to help engineers in quality control and the monitoring of projects. Consultancy firms have been empanelled for project management, landscaping and cityside development.

What will be the effect of the NCAP on airport development in the country over the next few years?

The NCAP is a stepping stone to providing air connectivity throughout the country. The policy envisages economic growth and prosperity by taking flying to the masses by making it affordable and convenient. The NCAP is the first comprehensive policy in the aviation sector which encompasses passenger, cargo, maintenance, repair and overhaul, safety, ANS, aviation education, skill development, etc.

The policy also encompasses the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), targeting an airfare of about Rs 2,500 per passenger for a distance of 500 km to 600 km on RCS routes (equivalent to a one-hour flight). The other objectives of the policy are to promote international air travel by the relaxation of the 5/20 rule and the introduction of the open skies policy. With the passage of time, the policy will further evolve by fine-tuning the objectives.

What is the status of the privatisation of operations contracts at Ahmedabad and Jaipur airports?

We are currently working on an outsourcing model and not the privatisation approach for operations and maintenance contracts at Ahmedabad and Jaipur airports.

What are the timelines for Chennai airport’s Phase II expansion? What are the expansion plans at other AAI airports?

Phase II works for the expansion at Chennai airport are currently under tendering for augmenting the total capacity of terminal buildings to 30 million passengers per annum (mppa) from the present 23 mppa.

For the development of airports, AAI has drawn up a comprehensive infrastructure development plan with a capital expenditure outlay of Rs 17.5 billion for the next five years. New terminal buildings have been planned at Agartala, Guwahati, Vijayawada, Leh, Gorakhpur, Patna and Imphal. Development of airports at Gaya, Raxaul and Purnea and the construction of a greenfield airport at Patna is planned under the prime minister’s special Rs 27 billion package for Bihar.

Plans are afoot to increase the capacity of existing terminals at Trichy, Srinagar, Pune, Lucknow, Mangalore, Dehradun and Jaipur. At least the Vadodara, Jammu and Kishangarh airport terminals will be ready by end-2016, while another seven terminals (Belgaum, Hubli, Vijayawada, Tezu, Calicut, Jharsuguda and Port Blair) will be commissioned by 2018.

New civil enclaves are planned at five defence aerodromes where civil enclaves already exist (Agra, Allahabad, Kanpur, Bagdogra and Jammu) and three new civil enclaves will be established at the Bareilly, Adampur and Purnea aerodromes.

AAI has undertaken the extension/strengthening of runways at 10 airports, of which the two (at Jaipur and Vadodara) have been completed. Work is in progress at Kolkata, Chennai, Surat, Trivandrum, Calicut, Ahmedabad, Dibrugarh and Amritsar airports and is likely to be completed by the end of 2017. The extension and strengthening of runways has also been planned at seven other airports (Raipur, Jammu, Rajahmundry, Vijayawada, Tirupati, Kadapa and Jabalpur) which are to be completed over the next three-four years.

What is the status of the greenfield airport projects (such as Itanagar and Pakyong)?

Pakyong airport is being developed for the operation of ATR-72 type of aircraft and is planned to have an initial capacity of 0.3 mppa. Currently, 91 per cent of the operational area works have been completed and 47 per cent of the terminal building and cityside works are also complete. The airport will be commissioned by September 2017.

The Itanagar greenfield airport project proposed by the Arunachal Pradesh government is in a preliminary stage, as land acquisition needs to be done before the in-principle approval is granted. The airport will be constructed by AAI through a 100 per cent government grant for the operation of A320 type of aircraft.

With the RCS on the anvil, what are AAI’s plans regarding airports at Tier II and Tier III cities, including no-frills facilities?

Around 50 airports are likely to be operationalised in the near future under the RCS. Of these, 10 are at non-operational AAI airports. It is expected that the RCS will lead to an exponential growth in the domestic sector, particularly in Tier II cities which can then act as hubs for regional connectivity to small airports in the surrounding Tier III cities.

Apart from the planned developments, AAI will endeavour to utilise the newly developed airports at Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Bhatinda, Jalgaon, Gondia, Cooch Behar, etc. which are unserved/ underserved and bring them on the air connectivity map through the RCS.

What are AAI’s top priorities for the next two-three years?

Healthy passenger traffic growth projections of 12.1 per cent over the next five years augur well for the aviation sector. Passenger traffic is expected to increase to 290 mppa by 2017-18.

To meet the growth, AAI’s capacity augmentation plans are in place and an additional capacity of 70 mppa will be added at AAI airports by 2020-21 which will be able to cater to the demand until 2024-25 and beyond. Capacity of a few million will also be added with the revival of unserved/underserved airports under the RCS.

We plan to make CATFM fully operational by next year so as to optimally utilise the airspace and airport capacity, thereby enabling efficient handling of bad weather, natural calamities, etc.

One of the priorities will be to increase the use of information technology to optimally use the existing space and enhance passenger facilities at our airports. Another thrust area will be to enhance the non-aeronautical revenue to ease pressure on passengers. For this, plans are afoot to make optimum use of cityside land for airport-oriented commercial activities.

Further, AAI is planning to augment training capacity to meet the requirement of appropriately skilled manpower. Fresh recruitments are ongoing to bridge the gap in demand and supply of available manpower.

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