By bappaditya paul
The N S C Bose International Airport in Kolkata has registered a significant drop in passenger and freight movement in the just concluded 2012-13 fiscal year ending March.
This at a time when the airport has recently thrown open a Rs 2,325-crore new passenger terminal with an installed capacity to handle 20 million (two crore) passengers per annum.
Airport insiders are blaming the overall slump in the country’s economy and also lack of major industrial activity in West Bengal for the decline.
According to data fetched from the Airports Authority of India (AAI) headquarters in New Delhi, in 2012-13, Kolkata airport handled a little over 1.01 crore passengers compared to 1.03 crore passengers the previous year. The net decline in this case is about 1.34 lakh passengers. Similarly, freight movement has dropped from a little over 1.25-lakh metric ton (MT) in 2011-12 to 1.22-lakh MT in 2012-13. The net dip is of about 3,361 MT.
What is cause for worry for the airport management is that the downfall in freight movement has been a recurrent phenomenon since 2010-11 and the drop in freight movement in the past three years has been around 7,727 MT.
As regards passenger movement, the decline has been on account of domestic passengers going down by around 2.21 lakh. Interestingly, in contrast the number of international fliers has gone up by around 87,000, thus compensating for the overall drop to a limited extent. This despite Kolkata airport offering less number of direct flights to foreign destinations.
“It appears that for domestic travel people these days are preferring trains to flights and this could be because of the overall drop in the country’s GDP, which has a direct bearing on people’s purchasing power. Besides, you have to consider the absence of major industrial activity in Bengal that robs us of business travellers,” said a senior AAI official.
For the dip in freight movement, officials are pointing out a year-after-year decline in air exports from Kolkata.
“The decline in exports to Bangladesh is prime amongst them. It could be because of Bangladesh’s ever-improving direct air connectivity with major production hubs across the world and also due to a rise in surface movement of cargo from countries such as Nepal and Bhutan,” an official overseeing the cargo operations said.
Exports from Kolkata mainly include readymade garments, raw leather, leather goods, handicrafts and perishables. They are sent primarily to the UK, USA, Italy, Germany and West Asia.
Imports are dominated by electronics ~ both finished items and spares ~ telecommunications apparatus, machinery, industrial tools and silk. They mostly come from China.
In view of the under-utilisation of Kolkata airport’s cargo handling capacity, which is now stagnant at 20 per cent, the AAI chairman, Mr V P Agarwal, had on 29 May said that they were contemplating a concession on landing charges for cargo aircraft flying into Kolkata. The move is aimed at encouraging more airlines to operate cargo flights from and to Kolkata.
(The author is Senior Reporter, The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 15 June 2013.)