Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has been in the news since 2006 when the government decided to give the project of modernising the airport to a private entity.

Since then, various people have talked about the airport’s makeover while the GMR Group, which runs the airport, can’t help but talk about the various awards that it has won — like being ranked number 1 in the world by the Airports Council International. (Now ACI ranks airports according to region. In the Asia Pacific Region, where Delhi airport is featured, IGI is ranked No 1). It is also the busiest airport in the country (see box).

However, while everyone talks of the airport’s image makeover, the airport, which started operations at its current location in 1962 and was managed by the Airports Authority of India, has a rich historical past.Before moving to its current location Delhi had two aviation spaces, which started out as landing grounds at Safdarjung and Palam aerodrome.


Safdarjung was built around the 1930s while Palam airport was built around World War II which lasted from 1939 till 1945 and served as an Air Force Station for the Indian Air Force. However, in 1962, passenger operations were shifted there due to an increase in passenger numbers. Since then, as the number of passengers passing though the airport grew, so did the number of terminals. Today, Palam airport has transformed into IGI Airport.


Landmark moments

In 1963, changes were proposed to be made at Palam airport terminal building to meet passenger needs over the next five years at a cost of ₹9 lakh. Captain Durba Banerjee, India’s only commercial pilot then, opened the terminal building on March 1, 1969. The following year, Pan American airline, more popularly known as Pan Am, became the first airline to operate a Jumbo to Palam airport.


Other landmark moments kept following but the most significant perhaps was the fact that Delhi became a popular destination for flyers both from across the world and also different corners of the country, who wanted to connect to other parts within India and also the world, and the airport moved on to a phase of expansion and modernisation.


In December 2013, IGI terminal 3 (the integrated passenger terminal) became the first airport globally to be registered at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC as a ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ project.

Now covering an area of 5.4 million sq ft, IGI is the 8th largest terminal in the world and three times as large as the smallest independent country in the world — Vatican City.

Quick facts about Delhi airport (in 2018)

  • Annual passengers handled 66 million
  • Transfer passengers as percentage of total: 18.8 per cent
  • Average passengers per day: 0.19 million
  • Renewal energy same as in 2016
  • Number of airlines: 79
  • Number of destinations: 149
  • Highest ATM at peak hour: 78
  • Aircraft handled per day: 1,261