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India Mulls Linking Mumbai Airfields to Ease Congestion

India Considers Linking Two Mumbai Airfields to Ease Congestion
A Jet Airways (India) Ltd. aircraft prepares to land at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

India is considering building the nation’s first aircraft taxiway bridge to connect Mumbai airport with a neighboring airfield as land acquisition delays stall work on a proposed $2.7 billion new facility.

The plan is to link the main airport with the Juhu airfield, Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said in an interview in New Delhi. That will help ease congestion at India’s second-busiest airfield as smaller planes can be taxied to the adjoining facility, Singh said at his residence on March 4.

India’s move to ease congestion at its financial hub has been stuck as efforts to buy land at the proposed Navi Mumbai site stalled because of compensation talks with farmers, Singh said. Fixing the nation’s air transport infrastructure, ranked worse than Ethiopia and Namibia by the World Economic Forum, is critical to sustaining economic growth that has prompted British Airways, Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Middle East carriers to add flights.

“There’s a land compensation problem,” Singh said about the delays in the Navi Mumbai project.

GVK Power & Infrastructure Ltd., which controls the main Mumbai airport, rose 3.3 percent to 11.05 rupees at the close in Mumbai, its highest level since Feb. 27.

The world’s second-most populous nation needs about $12.2 billion of investments in airport infrastructure in the five years to 2017, according to the Planning Commission, a government body that formulates five-year economic and social programs. The number of passengers may surge more than 50 percent to 370 million in that period, it said.

Private Operators

In 2006, The government handed over airports in Mumbai and New Delhi to private operators as part of plans to modernize the facilities. About half-a-dozen airlines started operations in the past eight years as rising disposable incomes prompted more Indians to shun trains in favor of planes, straining the utilities.

“Mumbai airport is choked,” said Amber Dubey, a Gurgaon, India-based partner at consultancy KPMG. “The Navi Mumbai project is taking some time, and we’re basically clutching at straws here.”

In November 2010, India’s environment ministry approved construction of the 150 billion-rupee ($2.7 billion) Navi Mumbai airport to help ease congestion at the main facility. The government had set a goal to complete the first phase of the airfield by 2014.

Juhu Airfield

The Juhu airfield, built in 1928, currently houses the Bombay Flying Club and occupies 384.5 acres of land, according to the website of Airports Authority of India, which runs the facility. The airfield’s boundary is about 600 meters away from the main airport, according to KPMG’s Dubey.

There is a rail line, an overbridge, a proposed local metro and residential buildings between the two airfields, according to Dubey.

Mumbai International Airport Ltd., controlled by GVK Power, handles 32 aircraft movements per hour using a single runway, compared with Gatwick’s 60 on a single runway, according to a June 2012 civil aviation ministry document. The Indian airport, which had 29 million passengers in the year ended March 2011, is expanding capacity to handle 40 million passengers a year, according to the operator’s website.

“India is a big market and it’s bound to grow as far as aviation is concerned,” Singh said.

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