Monday, September 27, 2021

CITYPORTS; THE GATEWAY TO PROSPERITY

by Bikram Vohra

India is earmarked to open another 100 Airports over the next fifteen years. It makes sense and will galvanise the fightback. As of now, Airports Authority of India (AAI) manages 125 Airports, which includes 11 International Airports, 81 Domestic Airports, 08 Customs Airports and 25 Civil Enclaves at Defence Airfields.

Seven of these are now given to private managements and it is to be seen how this experiment works out. We have a network of 486 total airports, airstrips, flying schools and military bases available in the country.

Over 30 airports are now Cityports. In 2019, Hyderabad was declared to be in the top ten in the world and that is a very decent measure of what can be done. By Cityport, one means these are self-sufficient entertainment centres replete with hotels, rest over options, food choices, lounges, bars, spas etc. making them into townships. These aeronautical townships make it so vital for airports to flourish because they are not just landing fields but economic thrusts and can be the primary force in creating a 100 square km fiscal hub through its ever-increasing circles. That is why airside infrastructures are so vital because they offer employment and prosperity.

There is no doubt that in the post Covid era India will be the juicy option in the aviation comeback, not just by way of passenger and cargo growth but also airport upgrades.


Foreign investors will very keen to enter into the airport management market. Whether doors will open is to be seen and if so, how wide? Two such initiatives have been recorded.


Groupe ADP became the second leading international airport operator to enter India in a span of less than three months. Zurich Airport International AG had won the bid to build an international airport at Jewar, Noida International Greenfield Airport , UP .

The new airports will call for an investment of USD 60 billion in the next 10-15 years.


Navigational systems for these 100 airports will also hopefully install CAT III-B Instrument Landing System (ILS) that allows flights to land safely in low visibility. CAT III-B ILS lets aircraft land with Runway Visual Range (RVR) of up to 50m with a decision height of 15m. Also introduced will be The GPS-Aided Geo Augmented Navigation, or Gagan, can allow as many as 50 aircraft to safely operate in airspace that two planes take at present.


It can also help ease landing in airports that are poorly lit and do not have instrument landing systems. India developed the system indigenously and launched it on with little fanfare. Only the US, European countries and Japan have similar systems in place.

Despite Covid, if it is assumed that the 5.2 percent annual increase in traffic ensures a doubling of the present number and air cargo takes on a completely new dimension for itself, airports will have to become more specialised than ever. From commercial hubs to bizjet-centric airports to dedicated cargo operations, the ongoing saga can only be a victim to its own largesse.

There are several issues, which directly affect the aviation industry and they, centre on airport operations. Be it noise limitation procedures, slot wars, night time close-downs, the need for more trained staff or expansion plans, the airport world is so vital to our immediate future.


It would be fair to say airports are swiftly becoming a key component of an increasingly complex aviation infrastructure, are experiencing many pressures that are testing the air traffic control system, terminal managements, aviation security, rescue and fire-fighting services, weather services, and ground transport systems.

Let us put forward some facts and figures.


These are the projections as made by the Airports Authority…ostensibly before the pandemic.


International: The international passenger traffic has been projected to grow at the rate of 6.0% initial five years (i.e.2013-14 to 2017-18) and at the rate of 7% for the next five years (i.e., 2018-19 to 2022-23).


Domestic: The growth rate for domestic passenger traffic has been forecasted to grow at the rate of 5.0% up to 2017-18 and at the rate of 10% for the period 2018-19 to 2022-23.


The total passenger traffic (both international and domestic) has been forecasted to grow at the rate of 5.3%, and 9.2% for the periods 2013-14 to 2017-18 and 2018-19 to 2022-23 respectively.


FREIGHT TRAFFIC:


International: The international freight traffic has been projected to grow at the rate of 5% up to the year 2017-18 and 8% for the period 2018-19 to 2022-23.


Domestic: The domestic freight traffic has been expected to grow at the rate of 5% from 2013-14 to 2017-18 and at the rate of 8.5% for the period 2018-19 to 2022-23.


The total freight traffic (both international and domestic) has been forecasted to grow at the rate of 5.0% and 8.2% for the periods 2013-14 to 2017-18 and 2018-19 to 2022-23 respectively.


None of these hold true now. In fact, the situation must not be allowed to turn dire and the risk of many Indian airports being unable to survive is very real if suitable steps are not taken. In addition, these include financial support.


In the light of the present situation, the Association of Private Airport Operators (APAO) of India has written to the Union government, asking for urgent relief for the industry. The association’s statement highlights the dry gulch of funds flow and the need to ensure that jobs are not lost.


To quote: “India’s private airport operators have been incurring losses since March 2020 and are not in a position to generate revenue or manage their debt, which has further lowered their credit ratings. These make it all the more difficult for them to get back on their feet, as it lowers their eligibility for financial support from banks. The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought additional costs of establishing new operating procedures for the safe and efficient containment of the disease, and for ensuring that the passengers travel safely. This has led to a requirement for the use of extra expenses by the airport associations.”


The Association adds: the current second wave of COVID-19 has brought down the number of domestic passengers by 10-25% as compared to pre-COVID-19 times. The percentage of international passengers has reduced by 5-10%. In addition to this, the recovery of the domestic passenger traffic depends on factors like availability of vaccination, negative coronavirus test reports, improvement in quarantine measures, etc.


The AAI has this to say:


The Government of India has also launched a regional connectivity scheme named UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) to make flying affordable for the common man. In February 2021, the government identified 24 routes in Assam under the first phase of UDAN 4.0. In March 2021, on the launch of the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav (India@75)’ by the Government of India, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) proposed 392 routes under the UDAN 4.1 bidding process.

AAI plans to invest US$ 3.58 billion in the next five years to augment facilities and infrastructure at airports. It has opened the airport sector to private participation as six airports across major cities are being developed under the PPP (public private partnership) model. Investment to the tune of US$ 6-6.5 billion is expected in India’s airport infrastructure between FY18-23. Under the recent Union Budget 2021-22, the Indian government expanded the scope for ‘Krishi Udaan’ in convergence with Operation Green Scheme, wherein airfreight subsidy of 50% for agri-perishables would be provided to North East states and four Himalayan states/UTs. The expansion of product-coverage will boost the ‘Krishi Udaan’ scheme and improve air cargo transportation from these states.

In March 2021, the government announced a plan to set up two water aerodromes in Assam and four water aerodromes in Andaman & Nicobar Islands this year to boost tourism and connectivity. In March 2021, the government submitted a proposal to develop a water aerodrome project at the Ujjani Dam, under the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s UDAN-RCS (regional connectivity scheme). The government is planning to start 14 more water aerodromes across the country, after the successful launch of seaplane service by the Prime Minister, between the Statue of Unity near Kevadiya in Gujarat’s Narmada district and Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad in October 2020.

With all these plans in the offing comes the need for a higher level of airport management and expertise. The wider the window the more the jobs and the better the prosperity of the vicinity around a flourishing airport.

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