Explaining India’s Airport Gap

Following up my previous post on airports in India, I spent a fair bit of time looking for statistics on air traffic in India, and the airport capacity. The biggest scandal, in my opinion, is that India puts out pitifully low quality data on almost all spheres of public life. That’s another post.

Here, I would like to post my conjecture on why India’s infrastructure lags behind demand. The culprit is poor planning on account of problems with data, 5 year planning horizons, the approval process, and the natural time it takes to build something big.

Bad Data: It’s shameful that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s website lists the latest data as being  from 2003-04! That’s absolutely crazy! Rip Van Winkle would have better access to data. It’s no wonder that the airport authorities, and the ministers making decisions, have no reliable recent data to make their decisions. In a country that is growing as fast as India, having the latest data is the only way of knowing what the current situation is, and what needs to be done.

Look at the Hypothetical Chart below that tracks the annual demand and supply for passenger capacity at, say, Delhi’s airport. We are assuming that the planning team meets every 5 years to consider whether to expand the airport, and that it takes 3 years to bring new capacity online. Also assumed, is that the demand for capacity continues to grow randomly between 10-20% annually.

The obvious conclusion is that the planning team is chasing it’s own tail. By the time the new capacity comes online, the airport is already under pressure to add more capacity.

This is a very realistic description of the problem that India’s airports face. In the model above, between 2005-2020, the airport has adequate capacity for ONLY 4 out of the 15 years. In all other years, the airport is trying hard to catch up, but the incremental capacity addition falls short of the demand.

Here are a few links that I found useful for my research:

Delhi Master Plan (unreadable website, but typical of sarkari websites)

– Air Traffic News Report

– Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s “latesht statistics” page (has 2004 data in Apr 2010)