Navi Mumbai airport construction to begin by March 2013

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Work on a new airport for Mumbai is expected to begin before the end of the current fiscal year.

When completed, the long-delayed project at Navi Mumbai will help to ease the congestion at the Indian financial capital's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) and cater to the growing demand for air travel to and from the city.

The greenfield project, along with new airports at Mopa in Goa and Kannur in Kerala, will be underway before 31 March 2013, says Indian civil aviation minister Ajit Singh.

These will be developed on a public-private partnership (PPP) model between the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the city or state government and a private company. Five Indian airports are operated under the PPP model. They are CSIA, Cochin International Airport, Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Bengaluru International Airport and New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport.

GVK Airports, which operates CSIA and is part of Indian conglomerate GVK, has said that it has the first right of refusal on the Navi Mumbai airport. The City and Industrial Development Corp of Maharashtra (CIDCO) will oversee the project on behalf of the Maharashtra state government.

In its first phase, the airport is expected to be able to handle 10 million passengers annually. This will increase over four phases to 60 million, CIDCO said last year in a report. The airport will also have two parallel runways that would be able to handle Airbus A380 aircraft.

Singh says that the government has allocated Indian rupees (Rs) 241 billion ($4.56 billion) to its 12th five-year plan, which began on 1 April, for the development of airports in the country. This comes as New Delhi tries to improve its domestic connectivity amid a rapid growth in demand for air travel in a country, where rickety trains are still the main form of transport.

"In an endeavour to provide air connectivity to different parts of India, development of low-cost airports is the most important component. Instructions have been issued to AAI to identify the most suitable low cost model for development of smaller airports and to develop airports in the smaller cities based on this model," he adds.

This comes as the government makes providing air connectivity to the "remote and interior areas" of the country, the northeastern region, and tier II and tier III cities its priority, says Singh.

To improve international connections, India has designated the airports in Trichy, Coimbatore, Mangalore, Varanasi and Lucknow as international airports. They will join 17 other Indian airports with this status.

These five airports are open to international services, but customs, immigration, and quarantine facilities are available only on a temporary basis. These services will soon be available on a permanent basis after the status change, says Singh.