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Ajit Singh's plans for airports in UP grounded

Aneesh Phadnis/Mumbai 08 Dec 12 | 05:48 PM

Even though civil aviation minister Ajit Singh has the power to approve import of planes and construction of new airports, the minister is facing problems in developing airports in his home turf.

Singh has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to hand over air strips at Meerut, Faizabad and Moradabad to the Airport Authority of India and also sought land from the state to develop facilities at Agra and Allahabad airports but the plans are stuck because of alleged lack of support from state administration.

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"Why is the local government not taking any interest. Even a small state like Chattisgarh is promoting aviation. Development of aviation will only improve connectivity to tier II and III cities. It is vital for the economy," Singh stated. 

According to Singh, the number of persons travelling from his state to Gulf is higher than Kerala but number of flights is less. Uttar Pradesh handles less than 2% of aviation traffic with  most residents flying via Delhi, he said.

"Agra handles nearly 500 flights a year all of which are non-scheduled or charter flights. It is an air force airfield and we want to develop a civil enclave. The defence minister has agreed and we would require 50-60 acres of land to develop passenger amenities, terminal building and access. The district administration has identified land but I have not received response from the state government," Singh said.

He claimed that Airbus is keen to set up maintenance repair and overhaul facilities at Meerut.

"Airport Authority of India is preparing plans for the airports," Singh said refusing to divulge cost of modernising the air strips.

Singh's critics and experts point out that developing airports in towns like Meerut or Moradabd could be a loss making proposition.

"Developing airports for fixed wing planes involves a lot of cost. There is no potential in some of the small towns and it will just be a waste of funds," said an expert. He pointed out that the government had proposed developing helipads in all district headquarters across country. "That would have helped in connectivity and be useful in disaster management but the plan is on paper," he said.

"Our focus is on connectivity. We are amending the route dispersal guidelines facilitating more flights to tier II and III cities with small planes," Singh said responding to criticism.

Airports in four metros plus Bangalore and Hyderabad handle 70% of air traffic in India while Delhi-Mumbai route alone accounts for nearly 40% of all passengers flown, according to a civil aviation ministry report.

Airlines flew over 60 million passengers in 2011, up 16% over previous year but growth has slowed down in 2012.

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