Patna Airport Getting Saturated

Nowadays, Patna’s Jayaprakash Narayan International (JPNI) Airport is witnessing a bumper passenger flow trajectory.

Patna airport has registered a 21.9% increase in passenger flow in the first six months of 2016-17. Patna airport handled 9,40,405 passengers between April and September against 7,71,188 during the same period last year. In terms of monthly passenger movement, Patna airport handled 1,51,182 in September this year against 1,19,204 in the same month last year. The Airports Authority of India (AAI), disclosed these figures recently.

This phenomenal rise in air passenger traffic at Patna is attributed mainly to ever increasing number of Patna bound air travellers. “There is a large chunk of floating population in Bihar, which keeps travelling in and out of Patna,” JPNI airport director Rajendra Singh Lahauria told media. The airlines, too, notably IndiGo and Go Air, didn’t see any harm while introducing more number of flights with surprisingly low airfares which on various sectors have come down recently, making it well within the reach of the common man.

Increase in the number of daily flights operating from Patna in 2016 :-

IndiGo — from 3 in 2012-13 to 13.
GoAir — from 3 in 2012-13 to 6.

Total — from 10 in 2012-13 to 25.

The availability of more flights has resulted in competition among the various airlines which, in turn, has reduced the airfares on different sectors. At times, airfare on Patna-Delhi and Patna-Calcutta route is similar to AC class train fare.

Patna Airport

The average daily number of passengers at the terminal building stands at around 7,000. The total seating capacity of the passenger holding area is not more than 1000. “Considering the traffic of passengers and aircraft, the terminal building and the runway in Patna are one of the most saturated among all airports in the country,” said Lahauria.

It is in acknowledgement of the scarcity of space in the terminal building that the state government and the AAI are working on a scheme for the expansion of Patna Airport besides simultaneous operation of flights from the Bihta airbase. With the Secretariat tower on one end and a railway cabin on the other, nothing much could be done for the development of the existing airport.

Subject to clearance from the defense ministry, the Patna Airport is headed further west – towards Bihta – amid efforts for its development. The AAI board has agreed to transfer around 11 acres of its land at Anisabad to Bihar government in return of 13 acres of land of the state hangar, depot of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and 6.5 acres of land owned by Special Task Force (STF) adjacent to the airport. The additional land is proposed to be used for renovating the terminal building into a two-storey smart building capable of handling passengers through aerobridges.

India’s New Aviation Policy Coming Up

….. up till now there was no such policy.

images28129-3With more than 80 million air passengers already and having an annual growth rate of over 20%, India is tipped to become the third largest aviation market by 2020 by none other than the International Aviation body IATA. The peculiar thing about it is that this happened by default; through sheer strength of the number of fliers in India, which is obviously a fraction of a huge 1,200 million strong population. The number of fliers, aeroplanes, and airline companies is still growing steadily. And so are the associated aviation activities.  

IATA and the rest of the world did not figure out that this growth could have been 10 times more.

Through all these Aviation growth, the Government and its Civil Aviation arm – the Ministry- remained the most inactive player. The word ‘active’ would be an exaggeration, the correct term to describe the role of the Aviation Ministry would be that of an obstacle. To expect the Ministry to be pro-active would be asking for too much.

The Government did little to bring down the ATF prices. It remains the costliest in the world because the Center and the various State governments impose heavy taxes and duties. In spite of this, Indian Aviation grew. The Government can not be credited for this.

It takes painfully long time for a file to move in a Government Aviation office. Aviators in India had been through these procedures for past several years and have become accustomed to it. When ever queried, the officials would cite ‘lack of manpower’. In professional jargon this is precisely termed as incompetence. It is an irony since 1000s of job applications keep piling at its desks everyday while the Ministry and various bodies under it remain woefully short on manpower. Can the Government take any credit?airportcrowd-2

The growth could not be stopped because it had inherent potential. Despite the fact that the various stakeholders were disoriented, Aviation in India grew smartly. It happened because it was destined to happen even in the absence of any laid out guidelines. There had been no Aviation Policy as such. How the Government expects to be credited for the  Aviation growth in India?

Today, the world has come to know that the Civil Aviation Ministry, after several months of public debate, have finally completed the inter-ministerial consultations on the new aviation policy. It had been conducting consultations over the past few weeks with other ministries and cabinet ministers who were tasked to prepare the final policy. It has now moved a cabinet note on it with all the comments and is trying to get the stamp of approval from the Prime Minister in a week’s time. It’s finally up to the PM to decide the agenda of the next cabinet meeting, and the fate of the new Aviation Policy.

The policy, showcases key areas of reform in India’s Civil Aviation. It was first presented in November 2014 and revised in October 2015 before being put up for public comments.

indigo-new-625_625x300_71423122292Several ministries, including home and external affairs, had expressed diverse views on the policy.
The policy had also divided the airline industry. There had been strong reactions and lobbying from FIA comprising older airlines IndiGo (InterGlobe Aviation Ltd), Jet Airways (India) Ltd, SpiceJet Ltd & GoAir and Non FIA comprising new entrants such as Vistara and AirAsia. FIA has strongly opposed the proposal to remove the so-called 5/20 rule, which mandates that only airlines with five years of domestic flying experience and a fleet of at least 20 aircraft can fly to foreign destinations. Non FIA wants the 5/20 rule to be removed. The disagreements, hectic lobbying over several such important areas caused the introduction of the policy to be delayed.

Consequently, in the final policy, the preconditions may be relaxed, so that while the 20 aircraft rule is retained, the one for five years’ flying experience could be changed to ensuring that at least 20% of the airline’s total capacity has been engaged in domestic flying.1130Malaysia4_article_main_image

The Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) recommendations may include a proposal for a cess on airfare—each flight could be charged an additional Rs 8,000—and unprofitable routes offset with the collected corpus. The initial corpus is expected to be about Rs 500 crore annually.

If approved, the new policy will be showcased as a key reform by the government:

— one meant to increase regional connectivity across India

— allowing new airlines to fly abroad

— a new formula for granting bilateral flying rights.

FIA is so adamant that it may even move the courts if the government relaxes the 5/20 provision citing injustice being done to them. They want new airlines to also complete their term of five years of domestic flying like they did before being allowed to fly abroad.

The policy, however, does not cover state-run Air India, which has its own story quite different from others. It gets most of the budgetary allocation from the aviation ministry.The new aviation policy might cause the normal air fares to go up due to Viability Gap Funding (VGF). The policy does not make use of the non-aeronautical revenue otherwise the air fares would have been brought further down.

However, the entire aviation fraternity of India desperately expects one and only one favor from the Government. The whole of Aviation Sector in India will be highly pleased if the Government comes out with just a one-page policy suggesting that the taxes and duties on ATF have been reduced by half.  All other concessions and sops may well be considered redundant.