The government has announced under its Udaan scheme that two towns in Maharashtra - Nashik and Kolhapur will get air connectivity by the end of this month. It surely is a welcome step that the Central government has taken this initiative of opening airports in small towns of Maharashtra and other states and start connectivity there but will this initiative be financially viable? And if it is not viable, will it continue?
From December 23, Nashik will be connected by a daily flight to Mumbai and Air Deccan will operate a turboprop aircraft, which will carry about 20 passengers. From 26th December, there will be connectivity provided between Kolhapur and Mumbai with a similar service.
Nashik, the growing industrial town in North Maharashtra, went through this earlier. The city came on India’s air map with an ATR aircraft operating a morning flight to Mumbai but after a few months, the airline discovered that there was no response and the flight had to be shut. A small air carrier also tried a similar service between Mumbai and Kolhapur in December of 2001 using the MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) Airport in Kolhapur but that too did not work because there was hardly any response from the passengers. Now, will the air service sustain and get enough passengers?
One of the things that work against the air service getting enough support is the method people follow of going from small towns to Mumbai early in the morning and finish the work in the state capital to start back towards hometown in the evening. If a morning service from the small town is to be offered, it means the aircraft has to virtually fly empty from Mumbai to that small town (Nashik / Kolhapur) as there are no takers for the seats to fly from the state capital to the small town in the morning slot. This makes the operation unviable (as the aircraft virtually flies empty in one direction every time it makes a trip to the small town).
The problem is that only domestic business passengers cannot make the service viable and foreign tourists do not seem to be coming in large numbers to these towns of Maharashtra or other states. The figures in the graph here show that close to 50 per cent of India’s inbound tourists come either to Mumbai or Delhi. Airports like Goa and Jaipur get some traffic based on the attraction they hold for the tourists but even an airport like Pune is not able to attract any foreign inbound tourists.
If small airport operations have to be made viable, there is no other way but to attract tourists to that centre. Only tourist traffic can sustain an airport in a smaller town. Some airports like Dharamshala and Jaipur are big examples of this. State governments have to be made stakeholders in this process.