Airport expansion is slow lane as state governments drag feet on land acquisition

Minister of state for Civil Aviation, Gen. V.K. Singh (Retd) gave out some interesting information in Rajya Sabha – the upper house of Indian Parliament. In an answer to a question asked by Dr. Kirodi Lal Meena, who represents the western state of Rajasthan in Rajya Sabha wanted to know if the government has requested state governments to provide land for expansion of airports and if the governments have managed to hand over the land. 

As per the National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) 2016, it is the responsibility of state governments to acquire the land and hand it over to the airport operator which in most cases is the state run Airports Authority of India (AAI).

The list looks at the status of 61 airports across the country and is restricted to only the last three years.

The ones who got the land – as much as they wanted or more! 

Sarsawa in Uttar Pradesh has got more land than what was asked for. Sarsawa is a front line air base of the Indian Air Force and a civil enclave is planned. While 60.98 acres of land was claimed, the state government has handed over 65.04 acres to build the civil enclave. Sarsawa, when operational, would act as a gateway to Haridwar.

Deoghar airport in Jharkhand is a greenfield airport which has 653.75 acres of land allotted to it, while 635.75 is what was asked for.

Airports at Vijayawada, Port Blair, Hollangi, Jabalpur, Halwara and Pakyong saw the state government acquire and allot 100% of land requirements. Pakyong, Jabalpur and Vijayawada are civilian airports while Port Blair is a defense airport where AAI operates a civil enclave. A new terminal building is coming up at the airport. Hollangi in Arunachal Pradesh is an under construction greenfield airport while Halwara is another frontline air base of the Indian Air Force on the western front. The civil enclave would serve the city of Ludhiana which already has an airport but capable of handling only ATR72 aircraft and has seen cancellations due to weather.

And those who got almost as much as they wanted

Land acquisition is always a tricky subject. Litigations, protests and politics have ensured that be it road, rail or air – projects come to a stand still, sometimes for a small packet or parcel of land in the middle of everything. 

Airports at Tirupati, Tuticorin, Madurai and Vellore saw acquisition at 99%, 86%, 86% and 80% of required land being acquired. To expand the civil enclave at Agra, 87% of land requirements were acquired, while it stood at 94% for Adampur – another Air Force base of the Indian Air Force.

The laggards

Jharsuguda – which has seen operations under RCS (Regional Connectivity Scheme) – UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik), Patna, Kolhapur, Gaya and Dibrugarh are the operational airports which have been wanting to expand but it is stuck due to land acquisition issues. These airports saw between 10% to 40% of land requirements being satisfied which more often than not only looks at expansion of runway or terminal and not both! 

Chennai, Agartala and Trichy – which are all in desperate need of expansion have managed to see only 5% of required land being acquired. 

Bihta in Bihar and Muirpur in Uttar Pradesh aren’t operational with 35% and 39% land being acquired. 

The ones who didn’t

As has been the case, 37 of 61 airports listed have not had any land being handed over to the airports for expansion. These include airports which are in top 20 by passenger traffic like Guwahati, Goa, Indore, Coimbatore, Badogra amongst others. 

This list includes a mix of operational and non-operational airports and many those who are in dire need of expansion to accommodate any additional flight movements.

Network Thoughts

Most of the airports which find their way in this last have not expanded for lack of land. The likes of Chennai or Guwahati have been facing severe congestion and has led to airlines not being able to add flights or new destinations because of lack of expansion.

With state governments responsible, the blame game between centre and state would have stopped but there has to be a holistic solution to the problem. One of the ways to look at it is to construct airports outside the city with good connectivity. However, while this has worked well in Europe and North America, in India the examples of Hyderabad and Bengaluru show that there isn’t a dedicated public transport connection to the airport, besides the development shifts along the airport road and vicinity making future expansion difficult.

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