New Delhi: The civil aviation ministry has approved construction of five budget airports to improve regional connectivity and work on them will begin within this fiscal, civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati said on Tuesday.

Pusapati made the announcement while speaking about his ministry’s achievements in the 100 days after he took charge on 29 May.

The five airports—at Tezu (Arunachal Pradesh), Kishangarh (Rajasthan), Jharsuguda (Odisha), Hubli and Belgaum (Karnataka)—were shortlisted from 50 cities and towns in remote areas and various unconnected regions across the country.

“Airports Authority of India (AAI) has developed a no-frills model airport, which will provide essential services needed to operationalize the airports, without in any way compromising safety and security. This will result in low cost of operation and make it viable for the airlines to run their services," Pusapati said, adding that AAI was “committed to commencing work in this financial year at the five locations".

Each of these will be built with a small budget of 55-85 crore, said AAI chairman Sudhir Raheja.

This compares with 2,500 crore spent in building the Hyderabad airport.

The budget airports will have airstrips that cater to small aircraft like ATR and Bombardier-made Q-400, no conveyor belts and no aerobridges. Only the security area is likely to be air-conditioned.

Raheja said air traffic control will be provided by mobile units which do not require to be built like a permanent structure but can be simply bought. Each air traffic control mobile unit costs about 60 lakh.

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of Air India, said the government should also look into how these new airports will be sustained commercially.

“(It is) a good move to create no-frills airports but the beginning should be made with high-density airports so that more passengers can benefit. How many passengers presently fly, or what is the potential that exists, at the five cities selected for no-frills airports? For greater transparency, the ministry should in all fairness share with the stakeholders as to on what basis have these cities been selected," he said.

Responding to questions about the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s charge that the ministry had given undue favours worth thousands of crores to private operators, Pusapati said he has not looked into the CAG’s recommendations on GMR Infrastructure Ltd-led Delhi International Airport Pvt. Ltd (DIAL) and will study them. He did not provide details on when and what action can be taken on them.

CAG has raised questions on both DIAL and GVK Infrastructure and Power Ltd-led Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd (MIAL).

“As of now we have not looked into the agreements done in the past," he said.

Pusapati also said he has not looked into the bilateral rights granted to regions such as Dubai and others which had come up for strong criticism by the government auditor and were indicated as one of the reason why Air India floundered under the previous United Progressive alliance (UPA) government.

“We should do bilaterals on where it benefits both the countries. That was lost out (in the previous government)... whether intentionally or unintentionally I can’t say," Pusapati said.

Pusapati, who was questioned several times on the public sector units under the aviation ministry running without any heads, said it was all process driven.

Pusapati indicated that the heads will be given no extensions.

“Government has not been giving any extensions. Mr Rohit Nandan is the only one to get three months," he said, adding Air India still has a chairman, “They still got the head on the shoulders."

Pusapati also made it clear that there will be no bailout package for private airlines.

He said he was firmly against such a move, but added that he will continue to ask states to reduce jet fuel taxes. His own state Andhra Pradesh is expected to reduce it to just 1%. Andaman and Nicobar Islands is the only one charging zero fuel tax. Many states charge up to 30%.

Meanwhile, the ministry has agreed to take a cue from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to create more toilets. AAI and Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd will together pool in 35 crore to build toilets in schools around airports in the current and the next fiscal.

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