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Govt looking to operationalise 300 defunct small airports

India’s ghost airports may soon get a new lease of life. The country has about 400 airports/airstrips but only close to 100 are being used for commercial purposes as of now.

This is set to change, as the Draft Civil Aviation Policy will propose a raft of incentives for airlines to mount flights to remote and regional areas of the country so that the ghost airports can be revived.

Civil aviation secretary RN Choubey told CNBC-TV18 that the Centre, state governments and airport operators will all pitch in with aid to incentivise airlines to fly to smaller and remote airports.

“Airport operators, Central and state governments will all take some hit. And if cost of flying to these remote locations still remains high, we will look at further subsidy. I cannot discuss at this stage how this subsidy will be given but airlines cannot sustain cost of flying from these areas unless some subsidy is given,” Choubey said.

Are we then looking at some sort of cess that flyers will have to pay to ensure India’s remote towns get on the aviation map? There has been some talk earlier of the ministry proposing a regional connectivity fund and imposing a 2 percent cess on each air ticket to promote regional and remote connectivity.

Choubey said the draft policy will be out for public consultations within the next fortnight.

The civil aviation secretary also hinted at several other measures which may be revealed in the policy, all aimed at tackling the huge increase in domestic air passengers India is envisaging. “We had 70 million domestic passengers last fiscal and this number is set to multiply to 300 million in the next five-seven years. We need to build infrastructure before passenger growth peaks,” he said.

The draft policy will attempt to address most issues plaguing the sector. According to sources, the Draft Civil Aviation Policy may contain a provision which allows Indian airlines immediate rights to fly overseas. As of now, airlines must finish five years of domestic flying and have a fleet of 20 aircraft before becoming eligible.

What’s the catch? Any airline wanting to fly overseas must commit to earning 300 domestic flying credits (DFCs) within 12 months to remain eligible for overseas flying and to avoid any penal action. DFCs can be earned by complying with a complicated formula for domestic connectivity to remote and regional areas.

Besides, the policy may suggest open skies for areas beyond 5,000 km radius of India. This means India could allow unlimited civilian flights from countries that are more than 5,000 km or seven hours of flying time away. India may insist on reciprocity from countries with which it agrees to have an open sky policy.