New Delhi : Civil aviation in India has been redefined in the past three years and it has now become integral to the country's economy, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said Thursday.
Speaking at a function at Leeds Metropolitan University in Britain where he was conferred an honorary doctorate degree in recognition of his "outstanding contribution to the modernisation of India's civil aviation industry", he said Indian aviation has now truly taken off with Indian skies being declared the safest in the world by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
He said the biggest challenge in aviation was in the cargo sector and infrastructure. "We have to catch up with the lost time and we are indeed doing so," he said.
In the next five years, approximately Rs.400 billion-Rs.500 billion will be invested in developing airports. While the Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai airports are being upgraded and modernised, the greenfield airports in Bangalore and Hyderabad will become operational in 2008, he said.
Patel said work was in progress to develop 35 non-metro airports in the country, adding that India needs and can easily have 400 airports.
The minister noted that air travel in India had changed dramatically and become a mode of mass travel leading to an unprecedented growth of over 50 percent in domestic passenger traffic in 2006.