Punjab plans an international airport at Mohali, near Chandigarh

The Punjab government has made a proposal to the union civil aviation ministry to set up an international airport at Mohali, near Chandigarh - the second in the state after Amritsar.

The state government also proposes to develop Bhatinda, presently an air force base, as well as the airport in the industrial town of Ludhiana, which gets just one flight a day at present, into full-fledged domestic airports.

The work for Mohali airport entails building an international terminal near the existing Chandigarh air base of the IAF. The airports at Mohali and Bhatinda will be developed by the AAI, while the Ludhiana airport is likely to be developed through a private-public partnership.

The plan is also to expand the present domestic terminal of the Chandigarh air force base, which will be on the other side of the new international terminal. The air base's 9,000-ft runway can handle large passenger aircraft.

An international airport at Mohali is considered viable, as the Amritsar airport has been very successful, absorbing a lot of international traffic originally heading for Delhi airport. Amritsar airport has seen a huge increase in the number of international passengers.

Though the absolute numbers of international passengers at Amritsar airport (4.8 lakh for 2006-07) are just 7.33 per cent of Delhi's 6.6 million, the growth rate has been rapid. In June, the number of international passengers at Amritsar airport grew 37.4 per cent over the corresponding month of the previous year. Delhi's traffic grew just 6.9 per cent.

A large proportion of international passengers in Delhi are NRIs from Punjab, and many would prefer taking a direct flight home. Industry experts add that more airports in the northern region will also decongest Delhi airport.

Malaysian Airlines started flying to Amritsar last year. In the northern region, only Delhi, Amritsar, Jaipur and Varanasi have active international airports. Lucknow and Srinagar airports are supposed to be 'international', but get very few flights from abroad.

There are a large number of people of Punjabi origin in Canada, the US, the UK, South-East Asian countries and West Asia.