Interview with Dr G. Mohapatra


In view of the increasing passenger traffic and near-saturation at key Indian airports, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has chalked out major plans for the development and upgradation of existing airports in the country. Besides, it is also providing an impetus to the development of greenfield and underserved/unserved airports. 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 over the past one year?

The proactive policies of the government and the buoyant state of the economy have propelled growth in the civil aviation sector. Besides, air traffic too has seen unprecedented growth in the past few years. During the year 2016-17, 264.97 million passengers used Indian airports, registering a phenomenal growth of 18.3 per cent over 2015-16. While domestic passenger traffic increased by 21.5 per cent from 169.29 million in 2015-16 to 205.68 million in 2016-17, international passenger traffic increased by 8.5 per cent from 54.66 million in 2015-16 to 59.29 million in 2016-17. Meanwhile, aircraft movement also witnessed a growth of 14.1 per cent over the previous year, with international and domestic aircraft movement registering a 6.8 per cent and 16.1 per cent growth respectively, over 2015-16. Further, freight traffic registered a 10.1 per cent growth from 2015-16, with international and domestic freight growth of 11.9 per cent and 7.3 per cent, respectively, between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

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

On the infrastructure development front, there has been steady progress. New terminal buildings have been commissioned at the Vadodara, Tirupati and Vijayawada airports. The extension of runways and taxiways, the expansion of aprons to provide additional parking bays and the construction of parallel taxi tracks have been taken up at various airports like Vijayawada, Mangaluru, Hubali, Goa, Tezu, etc., to enhance airside capacity.

During fiscal year 2016-17, AAI took up the development of common user domestic cargo terminals at 24 airports in a phased manner to facilitate the growth of air cargo. Domestic cargo facilities have been commissioned at the Ranchi, Goa and Srinagar airports, while international cargo facilities have been set up at the Indore and Bhubaneswar airports. Further, international courier facilities have been created at the Kolkata and Chennai airports. Another important achievement was the creation of AAI Cargo Logistics and Allied Services Company Limited (AAICLAS) in August 2016, a 100 per cent owned subsidiary of AAI for focusing on a market-oriented approach.

Meanwhile, on the air navigation services (ANS) front, AAI adopted state-of-the-art technologies including GAGAN (GPS-Aided GEO Augmented Navigation), Central Air Traffic Flow Management (CATFM) and automation systems for air traffic control. Green initiatives like CATFM, the implementation of RNAV – ATS (area navigation air traffic services) routes in the en route phase of flying, the implementation of approach procedures with global navigation satellite systems such as Baro-V and GAGAN-based LPV (localiser performance with vertical guidance) procedures have been put in place to reduce fuel burn and thereby control carbon emissions. Instrument landing system category III-B facilities have been commissioned at the Jaipur and Lucknow airports to deal with bad weather/fog conditions and flights being diverted from major airports, thus also reducing fuel burn. Moreover, green initiatives have been taken at airports in the form of using solar energy and LED lighting. The installation of 4.6 MW of rooftop solar power plants and 19.8 MW of ground-mounted solar plants is in progress.

For greater efficiency and transparency, AAI has launched NOCAS Version 2.0, an improved online system for the issue of height clearances for high-rise constructions, to reduce the time lag in the grant of no-objection certificates. Biometric access control systems are planned to be installed at major airports by October 2017.

In order to address the growing challenge of capacity constraints at Indian airports, AAI has prepared a roadmap. Further, project management consultants have been roped in to expedite the detailed planning and design of infrastructure at a number of airports and work is likely to be awarded this year.

Most existing Indian airports have surpassed their saturation point. What are the steps being undertaken to address this issue?

The development and addition of capacity is a continuous process based on current and forecasted demand. The modernisation and development of two metro and 30 non-metro airports has been completed in the past few years, however most of these airports have either reached or are reaching saturation. Twenty-five airports will be reaching saturation soon. Of these, AAI is in the process of undertaking the expansion of 13 airports while plans for the expansion of the remaining 12, subject to land availability, are also on the anvil. Further, we are undertaking Phase II development works at the Chennai, Srinagar, Pune, Dehradun, Lucknow, Mangalore, Jaipur, Goa, Agartala, Guwahati, Leh, Patna, Trichy, Vijayawada and Jabalpur airports.

With respect to airside capacity, AAI airports have 629 parking bays and 233 night parking stands. Most AAI airports have surplus capacity in terms of availability of parking bays with respect to present aircraft movement. Nonetheless, AAI has planned 191 additional parking stands at several airports to accommodate flights in the future. In addition, work is under way at 18 airports to provide 73 additional night parking stands. Besides, other airport operators such as Delhi International Airport Limited, Bangalore International Airport Limited, etc. are planning capacity additions in the next five years to cater to traffic growth. Upcoming greenfield airports such as Navi Mumbai, Pune (Purandar), Mopa, Kannur, Sindhudurg, Gulbarga, Kushinagar and Shirdi will also add to existing capacity in the coming years. Further, underserved/unserved airports and others being developed under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) will also add to the number of parking bays. Commensurate measures are being taken to enhance capacity in the air through various measures like providing state-of-the-art automation systems, radars and advanced-surface movement guidance and control systems, adding more routes, ensuring flexible use of air space between defence and civil aviation and revising procedures to cater to more aircraft.

What is the progress on key greenfield airport projects (like Shirdi, Itanagar and Pakyong)?

AAI is constructing a greenfield airport at Pakyong, Sikkim, suitable for the operation of ATR-72 aircraft. The airside works are almost complete but other associated works are in progress. The airport is likely to be made operational by end-2017. With regard to Itanagar airport, a high-level committee of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, AAI and the North Eastern Council has recommended the Holongi site near Itanagar for the construction of the greenfield airport. The state government has approved the site and will undertake land acquisition for the project. Meanwhile, AAI has prepared a draft master plan for the project and will proceed accordingly. Besides, the development of Shirdi airport is being taken up by the Maharashtra Airport Development Company as a greenfield airport suitable for the operation of A320 aircraft.

What are the timelines for finalising the operations and management (O&M) contracts for the Ahmedabad and Jaipur airports? What are some of the key learnings so far?

A request for proposal (RfP) for the O&M contract for select areas at the Ahmedabad and Jaipur airports was floated in December 2016. Based on requests from various domestic and global entities, the timeline for the submission of bids has been extended to September 18, 2017. It will be our endeavour to operationalise the O&M contracts within this financial year.

This transaction model is being introduced for the first time in the airport sector, making it a unique proposition. However, AAI will be able to assess the success of the O&M transaction process only after the opening of the bids. Based on the learnings from this, we will contemplate replicating the model in other Tier II AAI airports.

With the successful launch of the RCS, what are AAI’s plans regarding airports in Tier II and Tier III cities, including no-frills facilities?

Under the RCS, the government has approved the revival of 50 airports within two years at a cost of Rs 45 billion. AAI, being the implementing agency for the RCS, is all set to not only upgrade AAI-owned airports but also coordinate with other airport operators like state governments, public sector undertakings and private airport operators for the upgradation of these airports. AAI has made interim arrangements for the operationalisation of flights at Tier II and Tier III cities by making provisions like pre-engineered buildings/porta cabins for terminal buildings and mobile towers at some of the airports to cope with the timelines.

So far, 27 routes/networks have been awarded to five airlines as a part of the first round of bidding under the RCS. These routes will connect 31 unserved airports and 12 underserved airports. RCS flights from Shimla, Nanded, Kadapa, Gwalior, Bhatinda, Kandla and Porbandar have already started and the remaining flights are expected to commence by September 2017. To ensure this, some of the unserved airports are being upgraded for operations of RCS flights by September 2017.

With the central government allowing the flexible use of land parcels as a part of its asset monetisation efforts, what are AAI’s immediate plans?

AAI is in the process of monetisation its city-side land as per the AAI Act which provides for the planning, development, construction and maintenance of institutions/training centres, workshops, hotels, warehouses, etc. catering to passenger needs and air traffic services.

City-side development is being planned by AAI with a view to enhancing passenger convenience and facilities at AAI airports as well as to increase revenues through the development of non-aeronautical activities, to the extent permissible under the provisions of the existing AAI Act.

Under Phase I, city-side land has been identified for development purposes at the Lucknow, Raipur, Tirupati, Jaipur, Bhubaneswar, Varanasi, Kolkata and Amritsar airports. The construction of multilevel car parks with commercial facilities has also been taken up at the Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Calicut, Jaipur and Amritsar airports. Further, an RfP has been floated for the construction of hotels at the Amritsar, Bhubaneswar and Kolkata airports. An amendment to the AAI Act to facilitate the unlocking of the economic/commercial potential of city-side land and liberalise the end use restrictions on AAI land have already been initiated. The first-stage inter-ministerial consultation on the proposed amendment has been undertaken and the case has been put up for cabinet approval. City-side development at airports in the Northeast is also being planned in a phased manner along with the expansion of the airports.

What in your view are the major issues and challenges facing the sector?

With unparalleled growth of the economy, India has witnessed an unprecedented surge in air traffic, which is as high as 20 per cent or above. From an airport operations point of view, it was a huge challenge to manage this growth. This situation holds good even today. Going forward, air traffic growth will be strong and sustained, which will in turn drive the investment requirements for airport infrastructure, including ANS.

Though tremendous efforts have been made in providing and upgrading existing air and ground infrastructure, some gaps are still there. It is a challenge to be able to anticipate demand well in time, prepare and plan accordingly, and create quality infrastructure. Nonetheless, all efforts are being made to provide adequate runways and taxiways, sufficient airside capacity, terminal buildings with adequate facilities for passengers and a very sound and reliable air navigation support system. Plans to operationalise around 44 unserved/underserved airports under the RCS, and provide connectivity to Tier II and Tier III cites and remote areas are on the anvil. We have adopted multi-pronged strategies and are in the process of enhancing capacity both at airports and in the air.

One of the major challenges is to integrate the development of airports with city master plans. For the convenience of airport users, it is essential that access and dispersal facilities work efficiently, thus there is a need for integrated multimodal connectivity to airports. We have made requests to all the state governments to ensure seamless travel to and from airports.

Further, most of the major airports are witnessing tremendous passenger growth. Considering the scarcity of land around these airports, second airports may be required in these cities in the near future.

Besides, another challenge for us will be to provide quality customer services. Two of our airports, Jaipur and Srinagar, have been rated first and second respectively, in the world rankings of “Best Airport by Size” in the 2-5 million passenger per annum (mppa) category by the Airports Council International. Other Indian airports are now at par with global standards and we are continuously striving towards achieving excellence in customer satisfaction by adopting world-class technology and processes. Further, strengthening safety and security measures for hassle-free travel by the public will also be a challenge and we are taking adequate measures for this.

Moreover, equally important will be the augmentation of ANS infrastructure for increasing airspace capacity commensurate with growth in air traffic. A pragmatic approach is required for the use of available airspace for civil and defence purposes and we are coordinating with the defence sector through the government to unlock airspace. Besides, cargo infrastructure needs to be developed at a fast pace at AAI airports for India to become competitive in perishable and high-value cargo exports. AAICLAS is all set to tap the potential in this sphere.

Further, with growth in regional connectivity and general aviation, the maintenance, repair and overhaul segment needs to developed, for which AAI is ready to provide sufficient land at all major/future airports.

Finally, all the aforementioned steps will require skilled manpower. Though AAI is quite well placed with its own training institutes, these will have to be supplemented by training from external sources.

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

AAI has embarked upon a plan regarding the expansion of airports throughout the country with a capital expenditure of Rs 175 billion to meet capacity requirements in the next five years. This includes the upgradation and expansion of existing airports, the revival of non-operational airports, and the upgradation of ANS and telecommunication infrastructure.

There are plans for creating an additional capacity of 154 mppa in the next four-five years, of which 56 mppa of additional capacity will be created at AAI airports, including those at Chennai, Srinagar, Pune, Dehradun, Lucknow, Mangalore, Jaipur, Goa, Agartala, Guwahati, Leh etc. while the remaining 98 mppa of additional capacity will be created at joint venture/private/state government airports. In addition, AAI is in the process of awarding project management consultancies for the expansion of 13 airports including Chennai, Srinagar, Pune, Dehradun, Lucknow etc. and plans have been made for the expansion of another 12 airports, subject to the availability of land.

Likewise, to augment airside capacity, runway/apron/parallel taxi track works have been started at the Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Goa, Surat, Trivandrum, Calicut, Kolkata, Raipur, Amritsar, Dibrugarh, Rajamundry, Vijayawada, Vishakhapatnam, Tirupati, Mangaluru airports and are planned at the Jammu, Kadapa, Jabalpur, Dimapur, Imphal, Chennai, Trichy, Pune, Udaipur and Bhubaneswar airports. New air traffic control-cum-technical blocks are planned at the Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Raipur, Varanasi, Jabalpur, Bhopal, Trichy, Khajuraho, Guwahati, Bhubaneswar, Gaya, Ranchi, Dibrugarh, Diu and Kolhapur airports. Besides, a host of initiatives are being planned to make airports more customer friendly. This includes the optimisation of terminal space, putting up art works and the organisation of cultural events, among others.

Lastly, AAI also plans to spread its wings abroad by taking up opportunities for the development of airports in other countries.