• Varanasi airport gets ‘major’ tag after handling more than 1.5 million flyers in 2016-17

    Varanasi may have to wait a few more years for the ongoing redevelopment to show results but its airport already appears to have gained from its exalted status as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency.

    It was recognised as a major airport in January by the central government after it handled more than 1.5 million passengers in 2016-17, completing three years of above-average growth.

    The airport, which saw passenger growth of about 8% and 2% during FY13 and FY14, respectively, flew much higher than the national average of over 20% during the past three fiscal years starting fiscal 2014-15.

    The change will help Varanasi attract a larger share of the government’s airport investment plan. The airport’s financial plans and performance would also now be reviewed by Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA), which would mean a professional assessment of its finances and charges.

    Charges at minor airports are calculated by the aviation ministry. “Varanasi has been one of the best-performing airports in the country and is growing further. Its growth can only be termed phenomenal,” said a senior aviation ministry official, who did not want to be identified.

    Industry analysts say that the passenger growth during the period at the airport is much higher than comparable airports such as Lucknow and Patna.

    “Overall, the growth in Varanasi does not seem to be driven by connectivity to more cities but the increased frequency of flights from existing cities,” said Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer at Yatra-.com, an online travel portal.

    “Major routes have been roughly the same during the last 4 years which leads to the prima facie conclusion that PM Modi representing Varanasi is drawing significant attention to this city,” Dhall said.

    “It does seem that Varanasi is enjoying the Modi effect with a clear surge in passengers to the city over the past 3 years, well ahead of other comparable cities such as Lucknow and Patna,” he said.

    Dhall said the growth will be sustainable “if the business and tourism projects initiated are executed upon and lead to Varanasi becoming a real hub for both business and tourism”.

    A tourism ministry official added that there are big plans to tap the city’s tourism potential which will further help the growth of the city.

    “There are plans to start a helicopter service with base in Varanasi that will connect Buddhist pilgrimage centres around the city. This will further give a boost to tourism and air travel in the city,” said the official who did not want to be identified. Mike Komisarek Authentic Jersey

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