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Business News/ News / India/  Small airports see footfall rise post pandemic

New Delhi: India’s smaller airports are witnessing a dramatic rise in traffic, fuelled by growing regional connectivity and a post-pandemic surge in travel, an analysis of official data showed.

Until FY18, India had 29 airports with annual air traffic of up to 100,000 passengers. That number rose to 52 in FY23, a Mint study of Airports Authority of India (AAI) data showed. Twelve out of these 29 airports, including Kolhapur, Hubli, Darbhanga and Gaya, have seen traffic swell much beyond 100,000.

Bihar’s Darbhanga airport, opened under the government’s Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) scheme for regional connectivity, served over 600,000 passengers in FY23. The airport was opened in 2020, offering connectivity to key metros.

Graphic: Mint
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Graphic: Mint

The Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad) airport in Uttar Pradesh saw a 12-fold increase in footfall, with 571,067 passengers in FY23, up from 45,847 passengers in FY18. In the Northeast, the Shillong airport in Meghalaya witnessed passenger numbers increase from 12,957 to 109,788 during the period.

The Kolhapur airport in Maharashtra clocked a mere 14 passengers in FY18, a number that shot past 128,000 in FY23. However, this airport was closed for renovation during most of FY18, and flight operations resumed only in FY19.

Karnataka’s Hubli airport, which started operations in 1974, saw air traffic rise from 49,227 to 322,701 passengers during the period, an increase of 550%. Analysts attribute the swelling numbers to UDAN, which led to the opening of several new airports, and the shift to air traffic triggered by the pandemic.

“A large number of first-time fliers shifted to flights during the pandemic since train services were limited and people were trying to keep their contacts to a minimum. A large number of people have stayed with flying. New airports joining the aviation map has also contributed to passenger growth," an airline industry executive said on the condition of anonymity.

Between FY18 and FY23, the number of active domestic airports jumped 49% from 86 to 128, AAI data showed.

“While the setting up, modernization and augmentation of capacity of regional airports will lead to increased passenger throughput, the regional hubs they connect as part of the broader air transport network need to be improved, too; Mumbai and Delhi at the moment face severe passenger terminal congestion. For every additional regional airport developed by the government, a hub airport like Delhi needs to increase its passenger capacity handling by 20% . The government needs to crack the whip on private airport operators because the congestion at the moment has started to make Delhi and Mumbai overheat," said Mark D. Martin MRAeS, CEO of Martin Consulting.

Air travel in India has boomed as the country matures from the fastest-growing aviation market to the largest domestic aviation market. India’s air traffic recovery after covid has already beaten several estimates and records.

The country recorded its highest domestic daily air traffic on 30 April when airlines carried 456,082 passengers, the highest post-covid air traffic in a day, and also 14% higher than the average daily air count of the pre-covid year of 2019.

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Updated: 30 May 2023, 06:27 AM IST
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