Two civil aviation ministers spent crores of rupees over construction of 23 airports during their stints. But all these airports non-operational with no scheduled operators to fly. They only prove useful for union ministers and other VVIPs for their personal use.
Praful Patel, who was civil aviation minister for over seven years, had approved five airports in his home state Maharashtra – one each in Gondia, Akola, Jalgaon, Sholapur and Kolhapur.
The current minister Ajit Singh too has given approval for nine such airports in his home state Uttar Pradesh. Singh said that these airports were approved after conducting a feasibility study. “The projects are approved only after the feasiblity study is conducted. Airports help in increasing the GDP of the area. These airports will help the towns to flourish,” he said.
Besides, 18 other such airports were built in the past ten years which so far have remained non-operational. They include Behara in West Bengal, Begumpet in Hyderabad, Kandla and Keshod in Gujarat, Kota, Jaisalmer and Bhatinda in Rajasthan, Pant Nagar in Uttarakhand, Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Lakhimpur and Tezpur in Assam, Pathankot and Bhatinda in Punjab, Salem in Tamil Nadu and Shimla in Himachal Pradesh.
The Airports Authority of India spends roughly between Rs100 to Rs250 crore on each airport. “The cost depends on the size and type of the airport. For smaller airports, the cost of construction is less as compared to the bigger ones,” said an AAI official.
Probably keeping the past experience in mind, the ministry has now decided to conduct a route disbursal study for these airports. The ministry now wants to make these airports viable for the smaller operators.
“We want to encourage smaller operators who are interested in regional flying. We will be writing to the states to waive of the real estate charges and provide subsidy on power so that these airports become viable for small players,” said Singh. The minister has also proposed that instead of deploying CISF battalions for the security of the airports, the security of the smaller airports can be given to the state police.
All these airports are now being used by the VVIPs to fly their chartered planes. “Some of these airports get only one or two private flights every month,” said an AAI official. The AAI, however, has been spending money on maintenance of these airports and is also bearing the wear and tear costs.
dna tried to reach Praful Patel for comment, but he remained unavailable.