India puts forward concept of ‘merchant airports’ in private hands

New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) The civil aviation ministry Friday put forward a new concept of “merchant airports” in the country with the infrastructure managed by private enterprises and government agencies handling safety and security issues.

“The entrepreneur is expected to set up and operate an airport on the basis of its commercial viability, subject to the safety and security oversight of the government,” an official note said, after an official meeting in this regard.

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“Such a proposal will dispense with the requirement for investment of government resources and therefore a more liberal, license-based approval procedure can be considered,” the note added.

The government wants to unveil a new policy on airport infrastructure.

Civil Aviation Secretary Ashok Chawla chaired Friday’s meeting that was attended by representatives of leading chambers, infrastructure funding agencies, banks, airport operators and state-run aviation companies.

Experts noted at the meeting that there are no international practices in this regard for benchmarks, but given the rapid growth of civil aviation in India and the need for infrastructure, airports needed to work on commercial lines.

International air traffic has been growing at around 15 percent per annum, while the domestic passenger traffic has sometimes surpassed even 40 percent. “This growth has placed tremendous burden on the existing airport infrastructure.”

India is also expected to add some 400 new aircraft over the next seven-eight years worth some $80 billion, which would necessitate an investment of about $30 billion in airport infrastructure, the note said.

“Since it would be very difficult to generate such resources in public sector or even under public-private-partnership, the government felt the need to explore the option of merchant airports.”

In recent months, the airports in Delhi and Mumbai are being restructured in the joint venture route and two new airports are being constructed in Bangalore and Hyderabad, which are likely to become operational within one year.