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Govt urges to use new airport facilities
Published on 27 Jun. 2009 11:15 PM IST
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With the civil aviation industry in deep depression, the government is looking for a turnaround by ensuring full utilisation of all newly-created facilities, civil aviation secretary M Madhavan Nambiar said. The country’s new airport regulator, the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) is likely to start functioning within two-three weeks. Y S Bhave has been recently appointed as its first chairman, Nambiar told the media. The AERA would replace the regulatory role of the Airports Authority of India for deciding fees at high-tariff airports such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The new body will have powers to determine capital expenditure and investments needed to improve airport facilities, set tariffs for aeronautical services, and prescribe standards for operations across all airports. The regulator will have a chairman and two members, Nambiar said. Speaking at an interactive session with the members of the Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce, Nambiar ducked questions on the possible restructuring of Air India, now run by the state-owned National Aviation Co of India Ltd. He instead chose to focus on the need to market the country’s airports. ‘’We could talk to international consultants to effectively market our airports as the country is strategically positioned between the West and the East,’’ he said. Nambiar also failed to fully explain how India’s creaky airports, with minimal facilities and maximal red tape (mostly created by the union government), would suddenly position themselves as world class. He merely said the civil aviation ministry was having discussions with state governments on how to go about improving utilisation of existing infrastructure. Pulling up state governments, Nambiar said that while the Airports Authority of India invested around Rs50 crore on a cold storage facility for cargo at Kolkata’s grandiosely named Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, there has hardly been a 10 per cent offtake. “We need to look into these issues, identify the causes and see how we can jumpstart the utilisation,” he said. Around Rs15 crore was spent on upgrading the Coochbehar Airport in West Bengal but to date not a single airline had started services there. “It is indeed a matter of concern and I have already had a word with the (West Bengal) chief secretary on this,” Nambiar said. This was true for other airports in the country as well, like the recently developed Hyderabad Airport, which is not getting the expected increase in traffic. However, Nambiar confirmed that the AAI would go ahead with the modernisation of the Kolkata and Chennai airports. “The Kolkata airport modernisation project is on track and we hope to complete the project by 2011 March,” he said. Kolkata airport would then have a capacity to handle 20 million passengers per annum. Nambiar said the proposal to set up merchant airports in 35 non-metro cities would be implemented in a phased manner. ‘’We don’t want to invest so much now. That’s the reason we invited private players. But not many private players have come. We are also interested in the PPP (public-private model) model. International partners are also welcome.’’ Earlier, Nambiar asked state chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti to ensure greater utilisation of assets created by the Airports AAI in West Bengal. During a meeting at Writers’ Buildings on Friday afternoon, Nambiar reportedly pointed out to the state secretary that while AAI has invested over Rs50 crore in a new cargo terminal, including a state-of-the-art unit for perishable cargo and a huge freezer, the utilisation is just over 10 per cent. Also, following requests from chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Cooch Behar airport was revamped with an investment of Rs15 crore, but flights are yet to begin operation a year later. “With proper marketing, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport can become a hub for flights to the SAARC region as well as East and South-East Asia,” he said during an interaction at the Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce.

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