19 Oct 2016 14:34 IST

Strings attached

Vadodara may soon get an international terminal, but with the Ahmedabad one close by, is it really worth it

Sometimes doing a good thing is not the same as doing the right thing. The new international terminal at Vadodara is a case in point. There is no denying that it’s a good step, but opinions are divided as to whether it’s the right one.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates the newly erected integrated terminal at the Vadodara airport on October 22, it will pave the way for international flights to directly connect the ‘cultural capital’ of the state with the world. Designed to be energy efficient, the new terminal will make Vadodara airport India's second green airport after Chandigarh.

The project, started in 2011, was developed with an investment of ₹160 crore as part of a Central initiative to modernise existing airports. This will make it Gujarat's second-ranked airport after Sardar Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad.

For Prime Minister Modi, Vadodara bears a special significance, as it is the place from where he was elected to the Lok Sabha with a record margin of over 5.7 lakh votes.

With so much going for the Vadodara international terminal, what could then be the issue? The problem, experts say, is that it’s too close to other international airports, especially Ahmedabad.

A question of survival

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) currently operates two other international airports in the vicinity of Vadodara, Jaipur and Ahmedabad besides the privately-run airport at Mumbai. Questions are being raised about the viability of having an international airport at Vadodara barely 100 km from Ahmedabad and overlapping the serving area of an international airport which is typically a 50-100 km radius.

There are also concerns on the financial viability for airlines, which already fly to the Middle East destinations from international airports at Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

“One more international airport connecting to Middle East would hardly serve its purpose. On the contrary, due to shorter runway, most of the long-distance international flights would not fly to Vadodara. Hence, in spite of the infrastructure, there would hardly be any direct international flights from Vadodara,” says Sanjay Patel, an NRI from London. According to AAI data, Ahmedabad airport is spread on an area of 372 hectares with runway size of 3,489 metres and a cargo terminal. Vadodara airport doesn’t have a separate cargo terminal, and is spread over 292 hectares with runway size of 2,469 metres. Many experts point out that Surat, with a longer runway and enough distance from Ahmedabad, would have been a better choice for the second international airport. Surat airport is spread over 312 hectares and its runway (under construction) will be 2,905 meters by January 2017.

Also, according to an industry source, Vadodara has traditionally catered as an alternate landing spot for Ahmedabad during congestion or extreme weather. “Driving from Vadodara airport to Ahmedabad city consumes hardly 2 hours. In peak hours, a similar time is consumed within the Ahmedabad city itself. Hence, Vadodara can best be an alternate destination for flights landing in Ahmedabad than serve as an independent international airport," the source says.

On the other hand, the second-most populated city in the state, Surat, continues to have poor air connectivity. “It is sad that despite its financial prowess and diverse population, Surat gets step-motherly treatment from the airlines. The Surat airport was given integrated terminal back in 2007, but there is hardly any dependable connectivity from the city," says a member of the social group called ‘We Want a Working Airport for Surat’.

The right choice

But there are others who say that Vadodara is the right choice. They point out to the growth in traffic at the airport. To serve the domestic flier, AAI has six airports in Gujarat, including Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Kandla and Porbandar. Of these, Vadodara handles the most (10 to 12) flights daily, followed by Rajkot and Surat with 10 and four flights, respectively.

The Air Passengers Association of India (APAI), a national body representing air passengers in the country, believes the new airport at Vadodara will reduce the burden on the Ahmedabad airport for international fliers and make it easier for passengers from across the region. Ahmedabad currently handles about 15,000-18,000 air passengers daily through about 140-150 flights.

Behram Mehta, area chairman for Gujarat APAI, believes that with improvement in connectivity the city will be able to unleash its potential. “The number of air passengers is growing in Ahmedabad at 25-30 per cent per year. In this context, a new airport in Vadodara will share this growth," says Mehta.

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