World class

The opening of the new international airport terminal in New Delhi last week symbolically marks the coming of age of India in the civil aviation sector. Though the country had, by last year’s estimates, over 35 million passengers passing through its airports, it had not offered world class facilities and comfort to them. It was a shame that the ninth biggest aviation market in the world had an airport ranked at 101 in terms of air service quality. The new airport terminal which is the eighth largest in the world, has pushed the ranking up dramatically, with 78 aerobridges, 168 check-in counters and a host of other facilities. It was also completed in a record time of just over three years with an investment of over Rs 12,000 crore. It is also the result of a successful public-private partnership model which can be replicated in aviation and other areas.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh who inaugurated the terminal said that an investment of over $ 120 billion may be needed in the country’s aviation sector in the next 10 years. Domestic passenger traffic can grow to about 180 million and international traffic to over 50 million. Catering to such exponential growth calls for modernisation and upgradation of all airports. Ahmedabad’s new airport terminal was also opened to traffic last week. Projections of passenger traffic often turn out to be underestimates and therefore planning should leave room for additional capacity. The relationship between the economy and infrastructural facilities like airports and roads is one of mutual promotion.

Once the virtuous cycle is established it acquires a momentum of its own. The task of the government is to ensure that the growth is regulated in public interest. The prime minister’s reference to the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority should be seen in this light. It must be ensured that the best services are offered to the passengers. Developers of airports should also not be allowed to fleece passengers through imposition of high levies.

India is geographically and economically well poised to become a major hub of international air traffic. It has failed to capitalise on this advantage till now. The new Delhi airport can help the country move in that direction, though it will have to face stiff competition even from small neighbouring countries. The Commonwealth Games will give the country an early opportunity to showcase itself to the world.

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