Patna (IATA: PAT) – which has been one of the most important airports to operate post COVID-19 lock down is undergoing the much needed expansion. Last week, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Gen. V.K.SIngh (Retd) laid out an answer in Rajya Sabha – the upper house of Indian Parliament, in response to a question asked by Sushil Kumar Modi – former Deputy CM of Bihar and now a member of Rajya Sabha representing Bihar.
By December 2023, Patna is likely to get a new domestic terminal building and other allied structures. An investment of INR 1216.9 crore is being done with physical progress of the work at the end of June 2021 being 26.75%. An expenditure of INR 599.34 crore has been incurred on this so far.
The answer states that passenger handling capacity of Patna airport is 2.5 million passengers per annum which will be enhanced to 8 million passengers per annum when the new building is completed.
Patna Airport is known as Jay Prakash Narayan Airport is one of the most difficult to operate airports in the country. It has a railway line passing on one side and has a protected green area on the other. The runway has a displaced threshold on one side. The airport has been in the news many times since the deadly crash of Alliance Air in 2000.
Since then there has been talk of either pruning the trees to make the approach safer or restricting the airport to turboprop operations only but little has changed on the ground. Infact Patna has since evolved as a major airport in the country in terms of traffic and moved up many places to make its way into the top 10 domestic airports in the country.
Except AirAsia India, all major airlines operate to Patna. The airport has been a beehive of activity recently. While a lot is being speculated on why it became such a beehive, long term watchers will agree that Patna always had the potential, yields and necessary traffic.
The real breakout for the traffic came when airlines, led by IndiGo, could fly beyond the usual Kolkata and Delhi routes. The shorter runway meant that Patna operations were clubbed with Ranchi, to ensure that flights from Bengaluru and Mumbai can carry full load out of Patna. Newer generation engines/those with higher thrust means that airlines can fly non-stop to cities beyond New Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow and Ranchi. As it stands today, Patna has direct connectivity to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru
The city is the capital of the state of Bihar and the largest city in the state. The urban conglomerate has a population which nears 40 lakh, some of which is floating. The city is also a major trading centre in the region.
The city is well connected by road and rail along with air. Due to shortage of bays, lack of parallel taxiways restricting hourly movements and limited area to expand, the government had plans to develop a civil enclave at Bihta air force station, about 40 kilometers away from Patna. The 8202 feet runway is proposed to be expanded further and a new terminal will be able to handle as many passengers as those at Patna, currently. However, the progress has been slow.
Meanwhile, flight services have started from Darbhanga – located about 150 kms away from Patna. While Darbhanga will not act as a replacement for Patna, it certainly takes some pressure off Patna since the region was heavily dependent on Patna for all flight services and now has its own.
Patna has huge potential and that is evident from the fact that Darbhanga has been doing wonders in terms of traffic. A congested civil airport at Patna and reliance on Bihta and Darbhanga – both defense airports, for future expansion is not the kind of strategy which will work for the next 30 years.
Pre-COVID19, Patna airport had taken innovative steps like building a tent for waiting passengers and allowing passengers to enter the terminal building only at certain times before the flight, to better manage the crowds. Such antics can now come to a halt.
Hopefully a long term solution is found and Patna gets an airport which is true to its potential, including international services. When the Vande Bharat Mission flights were operating, airlines were operating to Gaya from middle east, so as to be able to take off with full fuel for the trip back – something which is not possible fro existing Patna airport.