Interview with Dr G. Mohapatra: “The past two decades have been tumultuous for the airport sector”

“The past two decades have been tumultuous for the airport sector”

Dr Guruprasad Mohapatra, chairman, Airports Authority of India

India’s aviation sector has seen tremendous growth during the past two decades.The emergence of a number of private airlines, and the upgradation of airports on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis are aspects that describe the sector’s growth story. Dr Guruprasad Mohapatra, chairman, Airports Authority of India, shares his views on the evolution of the airport sector in the past 20 years…

How do you assess the progress made in the airport sector over the past two decades?

The past two decades have been tumultuous for the airport sector. With liberalisation and opening up of the skies, the Indian aviation sector has been booming with unprecedented growth. Growth in passenger traffic has been boosted especially with rising incomes and low-cost aviation. India has become the third largest domestic aviation market in the world and is expected to overtake the UK to become the third largest air passenger market by 2025. Domestic passenger traffic expanded at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.52 per cent and international passenger traffic saw a growth of 9.27 per cent in the past decade. Current growth rates are quite phenomenal with the country witnessing double-digit growth for 40 months consecutively. It is poised to celebrate consecutive double digit growth for 50 months in September 2018. This rapid growth required matching upgradation and modernisation of airport infrastructure.

The government came out with the Airport Infrastructure Policy in 1998 and the Greenfield Airport Policy in 2008 for ushering growth in the sector. Government policies paved the way for a lot of development activities including the coming up of the Delhi and Mumbai airports under the public-private partnership (PPP) model and greenfield airports at Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kochi under private entities. The government brought out the comprehensive National Civil Aviation Policy in 2016 which encompasses several areas such as passenger, cargo, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), safety, air navigation services, infrastructure, aviation education and skill development. UDAN – the flagship scheme of the government – has also been rolled out giving a further fillip to growth.

How has AAI as an organisation evolved during this period?

AAI started from being a purely government setup, and after operations were transferred from the civil aviation department, the organisation has grown in stature slowly and steadily.

Today, AAI is one of the premier organisations in the country with a professional setup. A Miniratna organisation, AAI is aiming to become a Navratna in the near future. The authority has a highly skilled team of officials to guide the organisation through growth challenges. Airport and air navigation infrastructure development has been taken up in a big way to provide the country with efficient gateways enabling quicker travel and fostering economic growth. The infrastructure matches the best across the world. We have been adopting technologies and have introduced automation in all the fields of operation for smooth functioning of airports and providing passengers with greater convenience and a pleasant experience at airports. Several steps have been taken for smooth conduct of businesses across the organisation such as e-office, ERP, e-tendering and procurement systems, airport information management systems for aeronautical and non-aeronautical invoicing, online recruitment systems, GIS-based land and asset management systems, and the e-governance project “NoC Application System Ver. 2” for building height clearances.

How different are the challenges for airport development at present as compared to two decades ago? What are some of the strategies needed to overcome these challenges?

Earlier, air travel was synonymous with affluence. Now, the government’s sustained efforts allow the common man to travel by air. The Regional Connectivity Scheme introduced by the government has made this possible. Efforts are also being made to provide low-cost options for basic amenities at airports.

Due to an increase in population and rapid urbanisation, land acquisition for airport projects has become very difficult. The availability of land for expansion of major airports is practically nil. This issue needs to be tackled by adopting various measures such as land pooling, swapping of land, partial or full monetisation of airport land, leasing of land, alternative land space by the state government for shifting airports for unhindered expansion, readjustments within the airports, etc.

There has been a drastic change in the safety and security environment with a heightened concern for aviation security as compared to two decades ago. Various procedures and formalities to make flying safe and secure have contributed to certain delays thereby increasing the actual time to travel. Security infrastructure at airports has been augmented and modern equipment inducted. The use of cutting edge technologies common user terminal equipment (CUTE), common use self service (CUSS), baggage reconciliation system(BRS), flight information display systems (FIDS), airport operations control centre) have been introduced for smooth flow of passengers.

Travelling to and from airports in big cities has become a challenge which was not there two decades ago. Multimodal connectivity to airports has become the need of the hour. All the airports should consider the development of metro rail and road connectivity for high speed movement of travellers.

What have been AAI’s biggest accomplishments in the past few years?

Our biggest accomplishments need to be judged by you and the public. AAI has developed/upgraded more than 60 airports in the country, the big-ticket ones being  metro airports at Chennai and Kolkata. Development is a continuous activity and we have embarked upon the second phase of development at all the major airports with a capex of Rs 200 billion. Meanwhile, AAI has laid a lot of emphasis on upgrading airspace infrastructure to cater to the sustained growth in air traffic, thereby enhancing safety and efficiency. Major initiatives taken in the field of air navigation services include transition from voice to data-link and ground-based navigation to satellite-based navigation, augmentation of radar surveillance, implementation of air traffic management (ATM) automation at busy airports, improvement in ATM procedures, and enhancement of training and research and development capabilities.

For sustainable development, AAI has adopted green initiatives such as the establishment of central air traffic flow management, and the implementation of area navigation (RNAV)-ATS routes, approach procedures with global navigation satellite system (GNSS) such as Baro-V, and GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN)-based LPV procedures to provide better all-weather access to airports. AAI has commissioned solar power plants of 30.15 MWp at airports by which it was able to generate about 3.17 million units of electricity during March 2018. AAI has generated 36.88 million units till March 2018 and reduced approximately 330 tonnes of carbon emissions. A total of 5.49 MWp of rooftop and ground mounted solar plant installation works are in progress at various airports.

AAI is continuously conducting customer satisfaction surveys and airport service quality surveys. Recently, several AAI airports including Jaipur, Lucknow, Goa, Thiruvananthapuram and Srinagar have been adjudged among the top airports in the world.

What are AAI’s top priorities and focus areas for the next two to three years?

AAI has entered the second phase of development at all the major airports, with a capex of Rs 200 billion, to meet capacity requirements for 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. Consultants have also been appointed for the optimisation of the existing terminal space in view of the burgeoning passenger traffic to cater to enhanced capacity requirements in the interim. The focus is on the timely completion of planned projects so as to provide capacity ahead of demand. In order to boost non-aeronautical revenue, AAI has planned city-side development at all major airports. The revenue will be used for the development plans of these airports as well as other airports and for bringing down the cost to passengers. Measures are being taken to maintain quality despite the increased quantum of work.

What is your outlook for the airport sector for the next few years and what is AAI’s role likely to be?

With growth in the economy, airports are expected to grow in all corners of the country. New airports that will come up will have airport centric growth such as aerotropolises.

As per AAI’s traffic forecast, the country will need to construct an additional capacity of 500-600 million and maybe more by 2030. It has plans to create additional capacity at several AAI airports including Chennai, Srinagar, Pune, Dehradun, Lucknow, Mangalore, Jaipur, Goa, Agartala, Guwahati, Leh, Patna,  Trichy, Vijayawada, Port Blair, Agartala, Calicut, Trivandrum and Jabalpur. Airside infrastructure such as runways, aprons, parallel taxiways and other taxiways require augmentation to match the terminal capacity. Based on demand projections, AAI has undertaken extension/strengthening of airside works. Work is in progress at Dibrugarh, Rajahmundry, Raipur and Vijayawada. Extension and strengthening of runways has also been planned at the Jammu, Tirupati, Kadappah, Dimapur, Jabalpur, Lucknow and Varanasi airports, and this should be completed in the next three to four years. Parallel taxiway work is in progress at Goa, Mangalore and Jaipur. For the A321 type of aircraft, 333 aircraft parking bays are being constructed at various airports.

There are plans to revive 50 unserved and underserved airports under the RCS. New greenfield airports at 20 locations are in the pipeline as approved by the government. An efficient network of airports will reduce barriers for development in the whole country and will bring opportunities to the hinterland. Second airports are being considered in most of the big cities in the near future to cater to the rising demand.