When the budget was presented in the Uttar Pradesh assembly a few days ago, the focus was on the outlay allocated to the airport at Ayodhya.
That the city gets more than a fair share of coverage for anything that is linked to it is understandable.
What, perhaps, is a little lesser known is the commitment of the civil aviation sector for this bounty offered to Ayodhya and several other airports in the country’s most populous state, which until recently was restricted to just Lucknow and Varanasi!
Uttar Pradesh is home to the Taj Mahal - the single biggest crowd puller for international tourists in India - and Agra does not have a dedicated civil airport. Instead, it is part of the Indian Air Force (IAF) Station, which has only witnessed sporadic scheduled services in the past.
The same holds true for Kanpur, Prayagraj (erstwhile Allahabad) and Gorakhpur, which have only seen limited flights. The speed of adding services has been so fast that airports like Gorakhpur have had to do with a temporary apron due to lack of space to accommodate the ever growing traffic.
While airports are coming up at breakneck speed to cater to the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) - UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik), the state is also focusing on non-RCS airports, leading to doubling of operational airports in the state in a span of three years. UP would soon have eight operational airports, when Bareilly too becomes operational in the next few days.
The budget also provisioned an additional Rs 2,000 crore to expand Jewar. The ambitious project, which will become the second airport for New Delhi, will now have six as part of its master plan, an increase of four from the existing plan. The airport has been progressing at a fast pace and would come up much sooner than other similar ventures like Navi Mumbai, which has been in the pipeline for far longer.
The added budgetary allotment and the speed at which things have moved is an indication of how government support and will can change the face of projects. It is something that other states would do well to emulate.
The state’s budget mentions that airports at Aligarh, Azamgarh, Moradabad and Shravasti are mostly complete with some work pending at Chitrakoot, all of which would be completed by March 2021, barely a few weeks from now!
Once these airports are operational, the top 20 urban areas by population in the state would have an airfield within two hours driving distance, a no mean feat.
Chitrakoot is likely to take time as the airport is a Greenfield one while those at other places have existed in one form or the other. A new terminal building and extension of the runway is underway at Aligarh, while Azamgarh only needs a new apron. Moradabad will see completion of work in the next few days and it has already undergone extension of runway, apron and enhancement of terminal.
An unused air strip is being revamped and extended in Shravasti, an important pilgrimage centre for Buddhists, along with construction of terminal and allied infrastructure.
Uttar Pradesh would soon have operational airports at Agra, Lucknow, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Prayagraj, Kanpur, Hindon, Bareilly, Aligarh, Azamgarh, Moradabad, Shravasti, Chitrakoot and Kushinagar making it the state with highest number of operational airports. No state currently has more than ten operational airports!
In addition to these, there already exists an operational air strip at Rae Bareilly - home to Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Academy (IGRUA) and at Saifai - which has been in the news in the past for political reasons, being the bailiwick of Samajwadi Party boss, Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Kushinagar has already obtained certification and has been conferred with the title of an international airport. Ironically, international flights remain suspended except for air bubble services, but the airport could attract big traffic as it falls right in the middle of the Buddhist circuit and could see passengers streaming in from Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and other neighbouring countries.
In times like these when the air traffic has moved away from Metro or Tier I cities, operationalising Tier II and Tier III airports could pay rich dividends to airlines and ensure connectivity for many! After all, with a population as large as that of Uttar Pradesh, airlines only need to take a small bite to get traffic, unlike other places where they would require a substantial chunk to get going!