India is gradually adopting a more integrated planning approach to airport infrastructure development. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has announced plans to develop greenfield airports as nodes connecting multiple modes of mass transport. The goal is to promote the seamless movement of passengers and cargo while boosting trade, tourism and commerce. This is being enabled through the development of holistic, connected facilities and ancillary infrastructure. The Union Budget 2023-24 outlined the development of 50 new airports along with heliports and water drones, which will expand their regional accessibility. It has also dedicated an Urban Infrastructure Development Fund of around Rs 100 billion per annum, which will be used for urban planning reforms. These reforms include transit-oriented development, and enhancing multimodal integration with diverse combinations of first- and last-mile connectivity.
Multimodal hubs involve integrating the physical infrastructure of different transport stations, terminals, depots, etc., as well as their operations, payment gateways, accessibility, and navigation facilities. This includes enhancing the capacity of allied services. The physical infrastructure of airports includes airside and landside facilities such as runways, entry gates and retail stores, as well as ground transport, car parking, hotels and roadways. The concept of aerotropolis also influences the growth pattern of cities. In India, this type of development is starting to take shape through new expansion projects for metro rail and railways that connect to airports and other modes of transportation.
Improved passenger experience
The ease of access provided by unified facilities at a multimodal hub simplifies the movement of passengers. This requires planning the transfer stations with parking bays for private vehicles, public taxi stands, buses, autorickshaws, and bike depots, among others. The terminals require adequate entrance and exit points that are universally accessible and connected with safe pedestrian footpaths, ramps and crossings. These passages must be well illuminated with signages and surveillance systems linked to approach roads with adequate right of way. An integrated command and control centre further establishes communication between different stations.
The upcoming Jewar International Airport in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, has been conceptualised and planned based on this model. It is targeted to reduce the total time and cost for logistics with a quicker turnaround. The airport will be equipped with night parking stands for airlines and dedicated cargo premises with separate access for air cargo and logistics. This project is expected to catalyse faster travel between Noida and other cities such as Delhi, Varanasi and Mumbai, through its connection to the Jewar-New Delhi metro rail project, Delhi-Varanasi high speed rail project, and Delhi-Mumbai expressway. A ground transportation centre will serve as the consolidating node with metro and high speed rail stations, taxis, bus services, and private parking. Moreover, the commercial development at the airport will be undertaken by Tata Projects Limited as part of its engineering, procurement and construction contract, improving the convenience of passengers.
Among the airport expansion projects, the Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru is a major example of a multimodal hub with a cost of over Rs 130 billion. The first phase of the project, which includes the hub as well as expansion of access roads and internal road infrastructure, was launched in January 2023. The hub will integrate both terminals 1 and 2, and facilitate the interchange between bus services, the Bengaluru metro rail, and other modes of transportation. Further, Terminal 2 of the airport will rely on advanced technology for features such as smart touch access, facial recognition, and digital media for advertisements and announcements.
Growth drivers to the aerotropolis
An Aerotropolis is a metropolitan region that is planned with airports as its centre of development. In this model, airports drive the growth of land use, infrastructure and the economy by enabling increased movement between regions in a country and between countries. In December 2022, a parliamentary panel urged MoCA to align city master plans with airport planning to maximise the potential for their growth. This would require airports to work as more efficient multimodal hubs that can serve a large number of people.
One successful example of such growth is the Aerocity around the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. Due to the high passenger traffic at the airport, there is a high demand for accommodation, commercial activity and business in the area. The airport’s seamless connectivity with the metro’s Airport Express Line further facilitates convenient travel and stay. The Multi-modal International Hub Airport of Nagpur (MIHAN) is also proposed to be developed on similar lines. It anchors this development with the allocation of a special economic zone (SEZ) in the master plan. A dry port is also being developed by the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust less than 40 km from MIHAN to provide the region’s working population with their preferred transportation modes. Its detailed project report estimates that 18 per cent of this population works in transportation and allied businesses while industries in the SEZ are planned in accordance with the city’s natural and human resource advantages.
In a related development, the second airport in Parandur, Chennai, is also planned to be developed as an aerocity. Its large site of 400 acres is planned to be on the new Chennai-Bengaluru Expressway and beyond the industrial hub of Sriperumbudur, which may be connected with a metro rail in the future. It is expected to have a long development period of 7-10 years as the state plans to create it as a platform for multimodality. It will strategically use the geographical location of the city and its high passenger traffic for intercontinental air routes to Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Promotion of last-mile connectivity
The demand for air travel has been on the rise in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in recent years. International travel is also being increasingly powered by these cities. Hence, the government is enlarging the scope of regional travel along with last-mile connectivity with more flight operations in small towns under the Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik scheme. Multimodal hubs will be the key enabler of such development with the inclusion of smaller aircraft and helicopters at airports and their connection with last-mile transit. To this end, the government has recently pushed for the formulation of a seaplane policy by the ministry and other stakeholders, which must provide last-mile air connectivity in remote areas of the country. As part of this, airport operators and airlines also need to ensure convenient boarding of differently abled people with provisions like aerobridges.
The Government of Goa is strengthening the last-mile connectivity of its two airports at Dabolim and Mopa with plans to add more electric buses that ply from the airport. It also aims to launch a multimodal transport application that gives passengers a choice of transportation mode from the airport at affordable rates. These travel options would include taxis, buses, rickshaws and motorcycles. Meanwhile, taxi service provider Uber partnered with Adani Airports Holding in October 2022 to provide designated zones for booking trips from Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Guwahati and Jaipur airports. They aim to improve last-mile connectivity through a passenger-focused service and provide a seamless ride experience with dedicated taxi parking and pick-up areas.
With an estimated 0.4 billion passengers travelling by air by 2027, air travel is expected to become the largest mode of mass transport for most Indian passengers. The 21 greenfield airports that have received in-principle approval from the central government could be expected to adopt the multimodal hub model for efficient travel interchange. These hubs would be integrated with logistics parks, as planned by GMR Goa International Airport Limited, on the 232 acres of commercial land available at Mopa. The regional connectivity scheme by the government further increases investors’ trust in creating airport infrastructure in the hinterlands of India. Airports in these areas will need to enable last-mile connectivity. Going forward, these hubs need to be systematically included in the city planning structure as they face roadblocks related to multiple stakeholder involvement, long gestation periods and dependence on private transport operators.