It's time Indian aviation sector spreads its wings

Published: 16th June 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th June 2013 10:29 AM   |  A+A-

Airports and air transport are becoming the lifeline of the new globalised economy. Though the recession had hit the momentum of global air transport growth, it is picking up slowly. Compared to other regions, Asia-Pacific is leading the revival.

India too felt the pinch of recession.   But last year, India was second in the global air transport growth (13.1%). In first place was Kazakhstan (22.5%) and China just behind us  (10.1%). The projected figures show that global air transport is waiting in the wings for the next take-off.

By 2016, the US—the leader of air transport—will have 71 crore passengers, but the next three positions will be occupied by BRICS countries: China 45 crore, Brazil 11.8 crore and India 10.7 crore. Japan will be the last among the five with 9.3 crore passengers. In the cargo sector too, third world will lead the revival. Sri Lanka at 8.7%, Vietnam at 7.4% and Brazil at 6.3% are in the front row.

Today, 129 airports are functioning in India from Leh to Thiruvananthapuram. Among them, 19 are international and seven are customs airports. The Indian economy has been fuelled by air transport in much bigger dimensions than ever. The tourism sector, which has 5.8% share in GDP, is heavily dependent on air transport. Out of 60 lakh (approx.) foreign tourists visiting India, more than 50 lakh land on the runways. In international trade, air freights have been taking care of the fragile electronic equipment and other delicate goods like pharmaceuticals and office equipment. 

In Kerala, air traffic was not a choice until international migration and tourism became the prime spinners of the economy. In Trivandrum, in 1932, Goda Varma Raja of Travancore started the Royal Flying Club and later in 1935, Tata Airlines made the maiden flight with two passengers. Cochin had the naval air strip in Willington Island in 1936 itself, but Calicut had to wait long for an airport until 1988—that too after prolonged public actions led by veteran freedom fighters like K P Kesava Menon. In Kannur, another airport is in the making but in central Travancore, a new airport in Aranmula—a sleepy village where the famous Parthasarathy Temple is situated—is opposed on the basis of religious and environmental reasons.

Kerala has been changing fast with an average growth rate of 8% in the last decade. The rate of urbanisation of the state was 80% during this period. We need more airports and airstrips across the state to cater to international and domestic passengers steadily increasing despite the recessionary trends abroad. In 2007-08, the three airports in Kerala carried 50.5 lakh passengers while in 2012-13, it rose to 74.7 lakh—a jump of 47%.

It is interesting to note that in the ’70s, Malabar agitated for a new airport but in central Travancore, from where the maximum number of international migrants fly, we have agitations against it. Environment and eviction issues are cardinal in establishment of new airports anywhere in the world. The remaining paddy fields are to be protected and conserved not only for food but also for keeping our water table intact. But at the same time, some sacrifices are inevitable for a fast-growing economy. Environmental damages are to be compensated by afforestation and with state-of-the-art environment protection techniques.

The erstwhile Travancore kings have shown a splendid example of unmixing religious sentiments and development. The Trivandrum International Airport still closes down for two days a year for the Padmanabha Swami Temple festivals. Maharaja of Travancore leads the Aratu procession twice a year through the runway. These closures are notified across the world through

Notification to Airmen.

This kingly gesture, permitting the ritualistic processional route to be intercepted by the runway, is a good reminder for us. We have to learn to live a modern life without infringing the cultural sentiments and sentimentalising issues of development.


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