• UP polls in sight, Greater Noida airport gets central push

    With the UP assembly elections approaching, the Modi administration has fast-tracked the groundwork for NCR’s second airport in Greater Noida’s Jewar district. The UP government is also pushing for early clearance of the airport apart from having international operations at Agra Airport.

    Aviation secretary R N Choubey told TOI on Thursday that the ministry had asked the state government to submit location maps for the proposed airport as the next step in the clearance process involved giving site approval.”Once that is given, the state will prepare the detailed project report. Then the aviation ministry will give in-principle approval following which the project will be executed,” he said.

    Execution means acquiring land and then bidding the project out. Choubey clarified that the airport’s construction won’t require amending the `150km rule’. According to this, an airport should not be built in vicinity of an existing one till the latter’s capacity falls short of meeting the requirements of its catchment area.

    “In Delhi’s case, the only condition is that the airport operator of the existing facility (GMR Group for IGI Airport) will have the right of first refusal (ROFR),” Choubey said, removing all fears over the 150km rule being a stumbling block for the NCR getting a second airport. Under ROFR, the GMR-backed Delhi International Airport Pvt Ltd (DIAL) can bid for any such airport and will get the right to match the highest bid if its own quotation is within 10% of the same.

    In fact, a Comptroller and Auditor General report in 2012 had criticised the ROFR given to DIAL. “This provision thwarts competition and provides DIAL with a natural advantage on the second airport,” it had said.

    However, the secretary said the rule was not a blanket one. “In Delhi, it means existing airport operator having ROFR. Under the concessiona ire agreement with operators in Bengaluru and Hyderabad, ROFR means another airport will not be allowed to operate there for 25 years.”

    In Mumbai, the need for another airport was triggered by the fact that the existing Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport was no longer able to meet the megapolis’ requirement. Delhi’s IGI Airport, on the other hand, still has the scope for a lot of expansion, including laying of the fourth runway , construction of a new terminal and expansion of the existing Terminal 1.

    Meanwhile, the UP government is pushing for international operations at Agra Airport, a defence airfield. “The UP chief secretary met me recently and we have okayed that. The defence ministry has also indicated its in-principle approval. It may happen soon,” Choubey said.

    The assembly elections are due early next year. Both announcements will have to be made before the Election Commission announces polling dates after which any such decision will be banned under the code of conduct. John Stallworth Jersey

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