Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Sat November 14 2015

India's Major Cities Will Need Second Airports by 2030

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | November 14, 2015

India's Major Cities Will Need Second Airports by 2030

India has launched a plan to bring flying to the masses. The country is embarking on an ambitious project to upgrade regional and rural airports and cap fares so that more people can afford to fly. 

This is welcome news for most Indian travelers, especially those in rural areas and smaller cities who have always been limited to bus or rail travel because of high airfares or a lack of accessible airports. If all goes according to plan, India’s smaller airports will be looking a lot nicer (and a lot more crowded) in just a few years’ time.

India’s airports are about to get a lot more crowded

But what about the country’s major airports? According to a recent report by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), things are about to get overcrowded at India’s most important hubs. While upgrading the smaller airports is a necessary step towards making air travel more accessible, the country’s main urban destinations are in just as much need of makeovers. 

According to the CAPA report, which was sponsored by TATA SIA Airlines Ltd., airports in almost every major Indian city will reach capacity in 5-10 years. By 2025, these hubs could be totally overloaded. There are even some projections that suggest that India’s largest city, Mumbai, might eventually need the equivalent of three airports to handle its air traffic.

Exponential growth means new airports are needed

The problem is that some of India’s urban airports cannot be expanded much beyond their current size. The surrounding geography does not lend itself to additional runways and terminals. Many can be expanded, but these expansions would only be a short-term solution. 

Delhi's Indira Gandhi International, for example, can accommodate 45 million passengers per year. It will reach capacity in the next year or two. Renovations and expansions could make room for as many as 85 million annual passengers. However, if India experiences the exponential air travel growth that it expects, even that won't be large enough in 10 years. 

Airports in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Kochi, Chennai and Bangalore are in a similar situation. Expansions are possible, but they are not a long-term solution. In each of these cities, a second airport will be needed to handle overflow by 2030 (perhaps much earlier in some cases).  

Planning has to start right now

The CAPA report suggests establishing a special commission that has the authority to plan new airports and approve construction without having to deal with any governmental red tape. 

Making air travel more affordable and accessible is an important part of India’s effort to become a modern economic power that can offer its citizens a good quality of life. However, the higher the number of people who take to the skies, the faster the current airports will reach capacity. This won’t be a problem if India can act soon to plan new hubs for its urban centers. If there is a delay, however, things could get very, very crowded at the country’s largest airports.  

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