Augmenting Infrastructure: AAI’s plans, priorities and initiatives

AAI’s plans, priorities and initiatives

Airport development in the country primarily comes under the purview of the Airports Authority of India (AAI). In order to cater to the growing demands of passenger and freight traffic, AAI has prepared a corporate plan for the period 2017-26, which focuses on streamlining operations and adopting global benchmarks through the use of new technology to ensure efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Capacity expansion plans

One of the major objectives laid down by AAI in its corporate plan is to connect and serve more people and businesses by enhancing airport infrastructure and expanding connectivity at both served and underserved airports. AAI’s endeavour to improve air connectivity assumes increased significance in the context of the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) being promoted by the government. The RCS envisages providing connectivity to the country’s unserved and underserved airports through the revival of existing airstrips and airports. The scheme will be in operation for a period of 10 years. To date, AAI has awarded 27 proposals to five selected airline operators under the first round of bidding of the RCS. Of these, 22 routes have already commenced operations. Under the second round of bidding, 15 selected airline operators have been awarded 88 RCS networks consisting of about 305 RCS routes. Of these 305 routes, operations on 26 have already commenced.

Another priority of AAI is user retention and growth. It plans to achieve this by enhancing the capacity of existing airports as well as constructing new ones. To this end, the government has already commenced the process of infrastructure development to increase the capacity of AAI airports at Chennai, Guwahati, Lucknow, Agartala, Patna, Srinagar, Pune, Tiruchirappalli, Vijayawada, Port Blair, Jaipur, Mangaluru, Dehradun, Jabalpur, Kolhapur, Goa, Rupsi, Leh, Calicut, Imphal, Varanasi and Bhubaneswar over the next four to five years.

AAI has an annual terminal capacity of 155 million passengers, which it plans to increase to 300 million by 2026-27. It also aims to add 290 aircraft parking bays to the existing 714 spots. It has already awarded works for the construction of new state-of-the-art integrated terminals at Agartala, Calicut and Port Blair airports. It has also granted approval to the works for upgradation and capacity expansion at the Chennai, Lucknow and Guwahati airports, at a cost of Rs 24.67 billion, Rs 13.83 billion and Rs 12.32 billion respectively. Further, it has also taken up the upgradation of airside capacity by way of strengthening and extension of runways as well as the construction of new apron bays to cater to the demand from airline operators, which have placed confirmed orders for almost 900 aircraft over the next 10 years.

Under the New Greenfield Airport Policy, many major cities are expected to have second airports. The central government has granted approval for the Noida international airport at Jewar, Mopa airport at Goa, Purandar airport at Pune, Bhogapuram airport at Visakhapatnam, Dholera airport at Ahmedabad, and Hirasar airport at Rajkot.

Recently, the trial run of the Indian Air Force B-737 aircraft from Jharsuguda airport has been successfully conducted, and the airport was inaugurated on September 22, 2018. It has been built over 909.22 acres of land at a cost of Rs 1.75 billion, of which Rs 500 million has been invested by the Odisha government. In addition, Pakyong airport in Sikkim, which has also been developed by AAI, is expected to be inaugurated by the central government soon.

Technology initiatives

In order to ease the mounting pressure on aviation infrastructure, AAI has adopted several new technologies. With the objective of enhancing security at major airports across the country, the authority has installed multilevel in-line baggage screening systems (ILBS), which not only improve security at airports but also streamline the process, resulting in greater efficiency. Currently, ILBS is operational at four AAI airports at Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Calicut.

AAI has placed an order worth over $50 million with Smiths Detection for high speed explosives detection systems (EDSs) for hold-baggage screening. These high speed EDSs will be installed at 11 sites at nine airports across the country, including Chennai and Kolkata airports. The CTX 9800 high speed EDSs are capable of scanning 1,800 bags per hour. The first group of machines is expected to be installed in the second half of 2018.

Multinational information technology company, SITA, plans to deploy its high-tech baggage management solution, BagManager, at another 13 AAI-run airports by the end of 2018. These are Trivandrum, Calicut, Mangaluru, Tirupati, Madurai, Goa, Lucknow, Jaipur, Amritsar, Leh, Chandigarh, Trichy and Ahmedabad airports. The technology is already being provided by SITA at Kolkata and Chennai airports.

In a bid to make checking in easier for passengers at airports,  AAI has taken the initiative of reducing management friction by removing the requirement for hand baggage tags at airports. To date, stamping of hand baggage tags has been suspended at 19 airports in three phases. Further, another 10 airports – Amritsar, Chandigarh, Pune, Mangaluru, Tiruchirappalli, Ranchi, Dibrugarh, Udaipur, Varanasi and Nagpur – have been identified for this under Phase IV.

AAI has chosen three airports – Varanasi, Vijayawada and Kolkata – for the DigiYatra initiative wherein passengers’ Aadhaar card details will be used for a biometric-enabled boarding process. Further, it has also decided to undertake a month-long pilot programme across airports to devise a strategy to ensure punctuality of flights. This move is expected to enhance aircraft handling capacity at airports.

Plans for the ANS segment

AAI has chalked out a capital expenditure plan of over Rs 25 billion to modernise and augment air navigation service (ANS) infrastructure in the next five years. In order to provide safe, secure and efficient ANS, AAI has leased/rented telecommunications infrastructure from various service providers. However, monitoring and controlling the activities of these multiple service providers pose difficulties for AAI. To resolve this issue, it is planning to set up futuristic telecommunications infrastructure, the Rs 9.45 billion contract for which was awarded to Harris Corporation in May 2018.

In terms of managing air traffic, AAI is replacing traditional concrete towers with digital air traffic control towers. The remote control towers offer longer operating hours and the air traffic service at the airport is performed elsewhere by using the latest technology.

Currently, five airports – Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Jaipur – offer low visibility procedure operations supporting CAT III-B capability. AAI is now planning to make more airfields CAT III compliant to help maintain smooth aircraft operations during foggy conditions.

With effect from April 2017, AAI has implemented an advanced state-of-the-art central air traffic flow management (ATFM) system called Sky-Flow. With the AFTM guidelines in place, airlines will be able to predict the extent of delay and thus ensure predictability of operations. Further, AAI has inducted new technologies such as advanced surface movement systems and guidance and control systems to enhance surveillance capability at airports and in their vicinity in addition to radars, enabling the airports to operate in a safe manner while efficiently meeting the demand of growing air traffic.

The way forward

Going forward,  AAI plans to develop the country into an maintenance, repair, operations hub; leverage non-aeronautical revenues such as retail, advertising, etc.; increase the cargo business; and efficiently utilise new technologies. It is expected that these objectives will be achieved on account of AAI’s major strengths such as large landholdings, vast expanse of airport network across the country, expertise in provision of ANS, consistent profitability and financial resources, and experienced manpower. However, the low share of non-aeronautical revenues, low growth of the cargo business, shortage of skilled manpower, lack of training, limited focus on management information systems, and marketing are the major challenges which need to be addressed by AAI in its pursuit of growth.