There are 37 UNESCO world heritage sites in India and the oldest two – Ajanta Caves & Ellora Caves are located near Aurangabad in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. An airport which got a new terminal about a decade ago, has enough apron space and a runway long enough to cater to narrow body aircraft with full loads, the country could have well explored the tourism potential of these sites long back by improving connectivity to the city.
With up to 4 stands for A320/B737 type and two operational aero bridges, the airport can handle much more than its 5 daily departures! The airport occasionally handled A310 aircraft which operates the special Haj flights to Jeddah.
The runway is 9,300 feet long with Instrumentation Landing System (ILS) and the topology of the airport and the region is such that there rarely is a disruption due to fog or rain.
Aurangabad lacks the pressure groups which few other cities in the country have but pressure groups do not help attract airlines, they at best can only facilitate at local level. For airlines, the potential is not just the industry but the tourists that it can get in, primarily from South East Asia – which can be effectively connected via Bengaluru / Hyderabad or even Delhi – which is already well connected to Japan, South Korea and few points in ASEAN.
What stops the airlines from starting flights to Aurangabad?
Most of the traffic from the city is to Mumbai. The city – largest in the Marathwada region of the state is a local powerhouse for education, politics and administration and sees traffic to the state capital Mumbai. With Mumbai airport being slot constrained, there are only three flights a day to Mumbai, two by Jet Airways and one by Air India. The two cities are connected by over 50 direct busses, most of which ply during the night hours. A 10% traffic moving away from bus to flight could mean an additional flight being successful on this route!
As airlines look to use the existing slots at Mumbai to connect new destinations, one could hope for connectivity to Mumbai – which will be largely driven by business traffic and the Delhi flights supporting tourism traffic. Because of the relatively harsh temperatures in summer, the foreign tourists have preferred the winter season for travel to India – be it the northern states or Aurangabad and an airline could look at seasonal operations where it can make quick buck and operate with lesser frequency in summer or pull out altogether.
As an airline, you can either tap the fastest growing sector or look differently at the potential and tap the sector which has been stagnant for a while and explore its potential. A lot of airports in India have been growing exponentially for the last three years, on the back of capacity being added by the airlines. However, not all of it is backed by profitable growth. Some is investment which will get realized in the long run.