Does Karnataka need any more airports?

Karnataka airports: Heralding progress or netas' flights of fancy?

7 new airports in pipeline & counting

Airport works are currently underway at Shivamogga, Vijayapura and Karwar. There are proposals to develop airports at Ballari, Raichur, Hassan and Chikkamagaluru. Credit: DH File Photo

Over the past year, Karnataka got two new regional airports at Kalaburagi and Bidar. 

At least seven more airports are in the pipeline in what has inevitably become a political style statement to get them sanctioned by elected representatives, with little forethought on the benefit-cost ratio. 

Airport works are currently underway at Shivamogga, Vijayapura, and Karwar. There are proposals to develop airports at Ballari, Raichur, Hassan and Chikkamagaluru. 

While Ballari and Raichur are about 160 km apart, the distance between Hassan and Chikkamagaluru is just some 70 km, which begs the question: Do they need airports? 

The state government hopes that these airports will cut travel time and boost economic activity, apart from reassuring inclusiveness for regions.

Elected representatives in Raichur feel their district is neglected. They pushed for a proposal for an airport. The district administration has proposed to make use of Rs 50 crore under the Kalyana Karnataka Region Development Board’s (KKRDB) macro funds. 

“The Rs 50-crore fund will help us start the project,” Raichur MLA Shivaraj Patil says.

Earlier, when the Kalaburagi airport was proposed, Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge was instrumental in pushing for it. Likewise, Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa is bullish on the Shivamogga airport in his home district. 

Development and politics are inextricably linked and several public representatives DH spoke to emphasised the need for regional airports. At the same time, they feared that the sustainability of airports was at stake without the government making concrete efforts to draw investments and generate employment in these regions. 

Kalyana Karnataka Horata Samithi member Laxman Dasti puts it in perspective thus: “We demanded an airport for Kalaburagi in the hope that it will enhance business and employment and that this will give people an option to work locally, instead of going in search of labour to neighbouring Maharashtra. However, the state government is not making concrete efforts to woo investors to the region. Without this, the airport will remain exclusive to politicians using it for their convenience. The lack of political will in drawing investments is disappointing.”

The Shivamogga airport, for instance, was proposed way back in 2008. “Shivamogga needs an airport. But the government has to actively open up to industries, to ensure its sustainability. Tourism cannot be developed with an airport alone. Road infrastructure needs improvement. Instead of announcing airport projects under political pressure, the government should first ensure adequate infrastructure,” former Congress minister Kimmane Ratnakar said.  

Transport expert Sanjeev Dyamannavar has a different view. “There is no need to develop airports within a 400-km distance from another major airport. When you match the total investment, total land acquired and the cost of maintenance to the volume of passengers who will travel by air, it’s not practical,” he said, citing the example of the Mysuru airport.

“Also, airports are always outside the city and as a result, the turnaround travel time is more,” he said, urging the government to focus on high-speed rail connectivity and improving road conditions.

According to principal secretary (infrastructure development) Kapil Mohan, the success of an airport should be measured by the continuity of operations in the first five years.

“The state government gives free power, free security and free fire services to operate these airports. There are no landing charges for the planes for the first five years. Hence, there is no question of airports getting any income,” he said. “After this period, we hope that the traffic will pick up and airports become profitable. This is the nature of all big infrastructure projects.”

A year after its launch, the Kalaburagi airport has become one of India’s fastest-growing regional airports, now operating 124 flights.