In line with its plan to make flying affordable for more people, the government has developed a policy to promote low-cost or no-frills airports to complement the low-cost carriers.
Currently, less than 3 per cent of India's 1.3 billion population flies and the Government of India, along with Airports Authority of India (AAI), is taking concrete steps to make flying affordable to more people in the nation.
The regional connectivity scheme, Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN), is one such initiative taken by the government for connecting unserved and underserved airports or cities. While a major chunk of the cost of an air ticket goes to the airlines, few realise that airports too play a role. For instance, the User Development Fee and other airport charges and taxes account for a large percentage of a ticket, at least on certain short and medium haul flights on low cost tickets.
Doing away with frills
To reduce the burden on the airlines and passengers, the government has decided to create no-frills airports to make their use and therefore air travel, more economic. No-frills airports would limit or avoid costs of services and activities that are not necessarily crucial for airport operations and that would allow the costs to be kept at the lowest possible level.
These costs are mainly related to landing fees, parking fees, security and civic amenities at the airports. All of these costs would be lower at the no-frills airports. It would start with the terminal buildings themselves.
The no-frill airport terminals will not have expensive glass and steel, fancy lounges, centralised air conditioning, aerobridges, conveyor belts and escalators and elevators for the passengers. In some ways, they would take us to that nostalgic period of a few decades ago, when passengers walked to the aircraft from a single-storey building with minimum interference.
By doing away with such frills, airports would be able to drastically cut their capital costs as well as operational costs and the resultant reduction in the interest burden-one of the major headaches of most of the large airports in the country and around the world. This will also help boost tourism and make it commercially viable for airlines with smaller aircrafts.
The central government expects all components of the government to contribute to the efforts of keeping the costs at the lowest possible levels in these airports. For instance, state governments are expected to provide land and other encumbrances free of cost, but only as much as is needed for essential operations. However, security and safety will be similar to that of the other airports.
These airports would be operational only during day time and in fair weather, doing away with the need of expensive advanced landing systems. Though in hilly regions, airports would have visual guidance through airfield lighting. The control towers at these airports could be mobile or fixed, simple pre-engineered structures.
These airports would be of three categories, scaling up as per the passenger traffic. The buildings would be modular to allow for expansion at a relatively low cost. The buildings would take about six months to build as opposed to the two or more years it takes for a normal terminal building.
Besides the navigation system, AAI will also provide training to the state's fire services and rescue teams. The airports would be equipped with ambulance and medical services as well as security and anti-hijacking measures, such as X-rays, explosives and ammunition detection systems and personnel scanners. The airports would also have two sets of walkie-talkies for communication and, of course, a very high frequency (VHF) system for the control tower.
The terminal buildings are put in three categories depending on the number of passengers to be handled in peak hours, ranging from as low as 50 to 150 passengers in an hour. The space allocated per passenger in terms of built-up area of the terminal building is cut down from 25 sqm in normal airports to 10 sqm at no-frills airports. Air conditioning of security hold area and lounges will be standalone, allowing airport operators to shut off lighting and air conditioning in areas that are not under use at any given moment. Only larger airports handling 150 passengers per hour would have conveyor belts. Most of the infrastructure in these airports would be such that they could actually be shifted to another location, if it becomes redundant at any place. Such stripped down, flexible and modular airports are indeed the need of the hour, if India is to provide an airport close to every Indian's house or workplace as is the mission of the government.
Authored by PR Team, Airport Authority of India