New Delhi: The Modi government ran up a bill of Rs 35.67 crore in 2018-19 for the upkeep of 27 ‘ghost’ airports from where no flights take off, an RTI query has revealed. These 27 are among a total of 31 non-operational airports in the country. There are another 15 airports that are operational but no scheduled flights operate from there.
The AAI manages 136 airports/civil enclaves (CE) but technically only 90 of them are operational at present. A CE is an area at a military air base allotted for the use of commercial airlines.
This information was shared by the directorate of finance and accounts, AAI, in reply to an RTI query seeking information on airports, number of non-operational airstrips as well as expenditure and losses incurred by non-operational airports in 2018-19.
The RTI has given a list of 31 non-operational airports managed by the AAI and shared losses incurred by 27 of them in 2018-19, saying that the remaining four are new ones.
These 27 non-operational airports were built at a cost of Rs 40.69 crore.
Even though non-operational airports do not handle flights, they need to be maintained, their staff paid, and depreciation accounted for.
“We are trying to initiate air routes in some of the ghost airports. But airlines will only operate if there is a good demand from flyers. An airline cannot be instructed or forced to do so,” said a source at the RTI cell of the AAI.
Rajiv Jain, spokesperson of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, said the government has already planned concessions on parking charges for aircraft at ghost airports to attract airlines.
“The AAI has been making efforts to start operations in all of these airports using market-based bidding under the regional connectivity scheme (RCS), slot coordination meetings, discussions with stakeholders and implementation of incentive schemes,” Jain added.
Under the RCS, also known as UDAN or Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik, airlines compete to win subsidies to operate flights linking small airports with bigger ones.
What RTI reply says
According to the RTI information, the 27 non-operational airports are located at Donakonda in Andhra Pradesh, Daparizo and Zero in Arunachal Pradesh, Rupsi and Shella in Assam, Jogbani, Muzaffarpur and Raxaul in Bihar, Deesa in Gujarat, Chakulia, Deogarh and Dhalbhumgarh in Jharkhand, Khandwa, Panna and Satna in Madhya Pradesh, Vellore in Tamil Nadu, Nadirgul and Warangal in Telangana, Kailashahar, Kamalpur and Khowai in Tripura, Lalitpur and Kasia (Khushinagar) in Uttar Pradesh, Asansol, Balurghat and Malda in West Bengal, and Bengaluru (CE) in Karnataka.
The RTI reply said Bengaluru (CE) is a non-operational airport built by the AAI at Rs 36 crore in 2018-19. It has caused losses to the tune of Rs 31 crore.
The four new non-operational airports are all civil enclaves — Darbhanga in Bihar, Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and Bareilly and Hindon in Uttar Pradesh.
The ministry spokesperson said that efforts are on to make nine of the 31 non-operational airports functional at the earliest. These are Deoghar, Dhalbhumgarh, Kasia, Rupsi, Vellore, Bareilly, Darbhanga, Hindon and Thanjavur.
“The civil enclave at Hindon airport was completed in March this year and is ready for commissioning flight operations. The remaining eight airports are being included under the RCS scheme to start the bidding process,” the official added.
A senior AAI official said the “situation has not changed in the past three years”.
“In 2016, the civil aviation ministry had issued a statement saying non-operational airports were spending more than their earnings. Former civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had also promised to make non-operational airports functional. But little has been done to that effect,” the official added.
According to a reply submitted by the ministry in the Lok Sabha on 25 July, the 15 airports without any scheduled flights are in Akola, Behala, Bilaspur, Faizabad, Gondia, Hyderabad (Begumpet), Juhu (Mumbai), Kanpur (civil), Keshod, Kota, Meerut, Moradabad, Safdarjung, Sholapur and Tezu.
Captain Mohan Ranganathan, aviation consultant and former instructor pilot of Boeing 737, said, “The 46 non-functional airstrips (31 non-operational and 15 without scheduled flights) exist only to boost the ministry’s claim of having more airports in the country. There is also severe shortage of qualified air traffic control officers in functional airports.”