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Saturday, 26 May 2018

‘Aviation will grow, connect and transform India’

Union Minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha sees the Indian skies changing, with several new modes of flying coming in.

Mr Sinha, what is the government’s plan for the growth of the aviation sector?

We already have a blueprint of what is likely to be the future. In the foreseeable future, what will the aviation sector look like? Even the prime minister is talking about it. From 500 planes in the sky to some 2,000 planes in the sky; we are going from 200 million passenger trips to a billion passenger trips. And we are going to grow from 200 helicopters to 400 helicopters.

We are going to grow from 75 airports to 200 airports. From auto rickshaws to air rickshaws. This where things are headed as far as aviation is concerned. So it is a massive growth industry that is going to grow and grow and connect up India and transform India. In my own life, there is the example of Hazaribagh, where I hail from. It was impossibly remote from Delhi. If you took a Rajdhani, it would take 14 to 16 hours. Today, I can do a day trip. I take an 8.40 a.m. flight, I reach Ranchi at 10.30 am and by 12.30 p.m. I am in Hazaribagh. And from 12.30 to 6.00 p.m. I work in Hazaribagh and you can take the 8.30 p.m. flight back and you are back in Delhi by 10.30 p.m. This was inconceivable even a couple of years ago. Of course, it also includes a very high quality highway that got built—NH 33— which allows you to do the 125 km in two hours. But that is what connectivity is doing to India.

Similarly, there was no flight between Delhi and Bikaner. We introduced the Delhi-Bikaner flight through UDAN [Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik-Regional Connectivity Scheme] and under UDAN II, we are getting a Bikaner-Jaipur flight too. But the flight from Delhi to Bikaner has completely transformed Bikaner and people are flying to and fro from Bikaner every day. People are willing to live in Bikaner because they know that they can be in Delhi in one hop. People are even willing to set up factories in Bikaner.

It can also stop the migration from the rural to the urban areas. Hawai chappal se hawai jahaz mein [This line] became so popular that it was also used in the finance minister’s Budget speech. Because it is the zeitgeist. Because it is saying that it is not just the middle class. It is not that just because you are working in ONGC or the Indian Railways or that you were in the IAS that you can afford to fly in an airline. That was already happening, but today even the security guard… and the kid who is studying in Bhopal should be able to travel by air. The aspirational new middle class—the people who used to drive motorcycles—are now going to travel in airlines. That is what aviation is doing right now.

So how is the allied infrastructure coping up with this growth?

Yes, we are looking at all these starting from increasing the capacity of the airports. You see, the finance minister launched Nav Nirman in the Budget speech—it is the next generation airports for Bharat. Nav also means akash or the sky. We are working towards quintupling capacity. We are planning for a billion trips in the country. Previously, the way people thought about airport capacity was in a three- to five-year time frame. We have changed that and made it into a 15- to 20-year time frame. In Patna airport, it has increased from 1 million trips to 4 million trips in the past three years. So we are saying, let’s plan for 20 million to 25 million passenger trips for Patna, because that is the inherent potential for Patna. Patna is an aviation location and it is serving 80 to 90 million people and there is a potential for 20 to 25 million trips.

Jaipur has a potential for 20-25 million trips because Rajasthan has a population of 8 crore people. You have to take care of the underlying demand and prepare for it, otherwise you will always be playing catch-up. And if you are playing catch-up then you will be imposing a high congestion cost in the economy. Look at Mumbai, which is causing high congestion cost on all of us at this time. Navi Mumbai, which should have been there 10 to 20 years ago has finally been given the go-ahead because of us. We are now playing catch-up with Navi Mumbai. We don’t want to play catch-up but want to stay ahead of the curve. When we get ahead of the curve, three good things happen. There is no congestion cost so you can expand quickly. Two, you can do it at a lower cost. Land is becoming more expensive, construction costs are going up so it is much cheaper to do it now. It will boost the economy now and that will have a compounding effect on the future. So the faster you do it, the better off you are.

That is why we have switched gears completely and moved to a completely different mode where we are saying, let us not think of only three to five years of growth but the next 15 to 20 years and build the airports now. We are building an airport at Jewar, in western UP, which has an incredible catchment area like Noida-Greater Noida and the National Capital Region. Then you have Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, and Agra and you have all of western UP. And all that is going to feed into Jewar and Jewar could itself have 40 to 50 million trips a year. Those are the ways that we are thinking about it.
02/05/18 Sourav
To Read the News in Full  Majumdar/Ashish Gupta/Debabrata Das/Fortune India
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