Flight Plan

What it takes for an airport to go international

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on August 18, 2020

Flightplan introduces a new column shedding light on complexities that shape the civil aviation landscape in India. Here’s the first one taking off

Most people in the metro cities take the number of domestic and international airlines flying into their airports for granted because airports have existed in these cities for a while and form a part of their landscape. However, for smaller cities and towns, getting an international airport is a big deal as flyers from these places then do not need to go to the metros to connect to their international travel destinations.

But starting an international airport is not an easy task. Changing the status of an existing airport to an international one and starting another international airport in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai which already have international airports are not easy.

Cabinet nod

To begin with, for any airport to start international flights, it has to be given an international airport status. This is done by the Union Cabinet. At the moment, India has 29 international airports including those at Shirdi, Port Blair, Thiruvananthapuram Coimbatore, Mangaluru and of course the ones in the four metros.

Nasim Zaidi, former Civil Aviation Secretary, explains that civil aviation falls under the Union List. Hence, under the transaction of business rules, designating an airport as an international airport is assigned to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, with the Centre having full and exclusive jurisdiction over matters related to civil aviation.

On account of this, declaring an airport as an international one, as also naming the airport, has to be approved by the Central government.


Zaidi points out that while declaring an airport an international one, many things need to be looked at, including defence air space management and the airport’s potential to receive international tourist and business travellers. Many regulatory bodies are involved in declaring an airport an international one as an international airport needs to have facilities such as those for customs, immigration formalities and even areas where animals can be quarantined.

Nripendra Singh, Industry Principal, Aerospace, Defence and Security Practice, Frost & Sullivan, adds that international status is given to an airport depending on the airport’s ability to handle flights to/from foreign countries. “High growth in e-commerce business across India creates an opportunity for airports that can facilitate faster movements of goods, both domestically and internationally. Even without high volumes of passenger traffic, airports can address the supply-chain needs of the region through cargo movements,” he says.

On June 24, the Cabinet approved international airport status for Kushinagar airport in Uttar Pradesh. Now that this has been done, the Ministry of Civil Aviation can include Kushinagar in the airports that are available for domestic and international airports for international flights when it has bilateral talks with foreign countries.

Since Kushinagar is an important Buddhist site, it is possible that when India holds air services bilateral talks with countries where Buddhism is a dominant religion, it could see some traction from airlines from Mynamar, Sri Lanka and Thailand for landing directly at Kushinagar airport. Right now, any foreigner wanting to reach Kushinagar to visit the Buddhist sites has to land in Gorakhpur and then drive 50 km.

‘More choice’

Singh points out that increased tourism activities will strengthen economic activity in and around the airport. “The travel and tourism sector in India accounts for an estimated 14 per cent of the total employment opportunities. Post-approval, a greater inflow of tourists is expected. However, the real beneficiary of this change will be the Indian consumer, who will have even more choices. More economic reforms and liberalisation policies are the way forward,” he says.

With Kushinagar airport being designated an international airport, construction is likely to start soon.

Similarly, the Uttarakhand government has given the clearance for an international airport to come up in Pantnagar. Once the airport is ready, the State government can approach the Centre for Cabinet approval, after which it will be in a position to directly receive foreign visitors.

Published on August 18, 2020

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