Government plans to operationalise unused airstrips

The government wants private and state players to invest in over 150 airstrips that are lying unused since World War II, to meet the growing demand for air travel in the country. The union civil aviation ministry is in consultation with other ministries to prepare guidelines, including conditions for licensing these airports.

An inter-ministerial group is already preparing guidelines and conditions for licensing private greenfield airports, sources said.

It is also developing the concept of 'merchant' or private greenfield airports with agencies like the defence ministry, Airports Authority of India (AAI) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). A merchant airport will mean that a private investor acquires land on its own and constructs an airport, subject to technical clearances and licensing.

The government is yet to take a decision on whether the unutilised airstrips can be developed on the merchant airport concept. Some state governments also own these airstrips, and they will have to be involved in the process. Airstrips on the government's priority list are at Pantnagar, Kamalpur, Kailashahar, Passighat, Tezu, Along, Daparizo, Tura and Ziro.

Of the unutilised airstrips across the country, Bihar accounts for the maximum number of 22, followed by Rajasthan and Orissa at 18 each, West Bengal (16), Gujarat (11) and Madhya Pradesh (11).