Mumbai: Despite having privately managed world-class airports in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai, and the world’s eighth largest terminal building at New Delhi’s international airport set to go online on 14 July, India is still far from getting an international airport hub for carriers, says industry experts.

“If the question is (about) Indian airports becoming international hubs for onward transit to Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and South-East Asia and Australia, that may be decades away," said Charles Dhanaraj, an associate professor of management at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Indianapolis, and an expert on the Indian aviation industry.

Global requirements: The new terminal of the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Civil aviation experts note that India lacks good infrastructure and large airlines, both prerequisites for an international hub. Pradeep Gaur / Mint

When Mint asked at least two dozen chief executive officers of global airlines at the 66th annual general body meeting of the International Air Transport Association about a hub in India, none were interested in such a facility, despite the fact that they are looking to increase their presence in the country and are tying up with domestic carriers.

However, Arvind Jadhav, chairman and managing director of Air India, has said he wants to make the Delhi airport an international hub, suggesting that the carrier would ideally like to do away with its Frankfurt hub.

Already, National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, or Nacil, which runs Air India, is planning to shift its networking hub from Mumbai to Delhi.

“If you take a look at India, our location accounts for about 30% of the world’s population with about (a) five-hour radius. There is absolutely no reason why India and major Indian airports cannot be global aviation hubs just like Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, or London," said Sudheer Raghavan, chief commercial officer at Jet Airways (India) Ltd, told an investors’ conference on 21 May.

But the challenges are many, say civil aviation experts, noting that the presence of good airport infrastructure and large airlines, both of which India lacks, are prerequisites for an international hub.

“The day Chennai airport is better than Singapore’s Changi airport, we can see Chennai becoming a hub to South-East Asia," Dhanaraj said. “I think building credible airports, and also linking the airport to the main city with high-speed trains will go a long way in changing the economics of the industry."

A spokesperson for the GMR Group, which runs the airports in Delhi and Hyderabad, said the major obstacles to having a hub in India include an inability to attract passengers, saturated airports and the poor health of Indian airlines.

“It should be noted that all airports in the list of the world’s top 30 busiest airports serve as hubs for one or more airlines, usually from the same domestic market," he said, declining to be named.

Manish Kalghatgi, head of corporate communications at the GVK Group, which runs the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, as well as the spokesperson for Mumbai International Airport Ltd, said an international hub would need a large, world-class airline that can also target transit passengers rather than point-to-point passengers.

“We do not have airlines, such as Singapore Airlines or Emirates, with that kind of frequency and network to promote the airports of Singapore and Dubai as real international hubs," said Kalghatgi, pointing out that the carriers actually make those airports hubs.

A report by consulting firm Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation released on 15 June makes the same point, using the Dubai international airport as a case study.

“Emirates Airlines is clearly an engine of growth at Dubai airport, controlling more than 59% of the capacity at the airport," the report said.

It noted that the Dubai airport is the leading one among West Asia’s hubs, handling a record 3.97 million passengers in March, up 21.8% from 3.26 million in the same month in 2009.

The Emirates fleet size alone is testament to its role as a driver for the airport. On 8 June, it placed an order with Airbus SAS for an additional 32 A380 planes, the world’s largest civilian aircraft.

The order took its total number of super jumbo planes on order to 90. It has already ordered 48 Airbus 380s, 70 Airbus 350s, 18 Boeing 777-300s, and seven Boeing air freighters on order, totalling 143 wide-body aircraft worth more than $48 billion (Rs2.21 trillion).

All these years, India has not been able to develop any of its airports as a hub, leading to international airlines creating hubs in places such as Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam.

“It is important to remember that a hub is not created overnight," said the GMR spokesperson, adding that the group plans to develop Hyderabad as an international hub airport for south and central India and for the entire region by 2018. “However, we have the added benefit of learning that which has happened before, so as not to repeat the same mistakes or perhaps learn from their successes."