Bihta gets bigger wings

Patna will have a second airport at the Bihta airbase, around 40km southwest of the city, apart from the Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport.

By Piyush Kumar Tripathi
  • Published 8.04.16

Patna will have a second airport at the Bihta airbase, around 40km southwest of the city, apart from the Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport.

Union civil aviation secretary R.N. Choubey held a meeting with state government officials in Patna on Thursday, and announced that the Indian Air Force has given its consent for commercial flight operations from the Bihta airbase where around 85 acres of land will be needed for developing the civilian airport.

Choubey claimed that it would take around 24 months for developing the Bihta airport once the state government transfers the required land.

The civil aviation ministry on Thursday also floated a proposal before the state government to extend the Patna airport terminal building over an area of 11.5 acres.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) would transfer land it owns in Patna to the state government in return of the 11.5 acres of land the AAI needs for the extension of the existing building. Senior officials in land and revenue reforms department claimed that the land-swap offer makes the option feasible.

Chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh said the state government is exploring all options proposed by the aviation ministry. A team has also been formed, including officials from the AAI, air force and Patna district administration to chalk out the land-acquisition modalities in Bihta.

Airbase to conclave

Bihta airbase has been the preferred location for the AAI from 2009, ever since the talks for development of an alternative airport for Patna started. The air force mostly uses the airbase for radar operations for the eastern region with very few flights."Commercial flight operation from Bihta airbase has been suggested as a medium-term measure for air operations from Patna," Choubey said. "While the existing airport at Patna would be used for operation of comparatively smaller aircraft (which already operate from Patna) due to the short runway, Bihta airbase would be used for operation of bigger aircraft."

The length of the runway at Bihta is around 2.5km, while that at Patna airport is around 2.07km. Sources claimed that the air force would start working on a proposal for extension of runway and installation of equipment at Bihta airbase in the year 2017-18.

When commercial flights operate from a defence airbase - as in Gaya and Varanasi - it is called a "civil conclave in defence airport".

"We have suggested three locations adjacent to Bihta airbase for development of civil conclave (terminal building)," Choubey said. "The state government would take a call on which location suits them the most with regard to acquisition of land."

A senior AAI official said the state government was keen on developing the civil conclave on the western side of the boundary wall of the airbase. Patna district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agrawal along with air force officers commenced the survey of the land on Thursday itself.

"Though the state government officials didn't give a confirmation, they sounded very positive of giving the required 85 acres of land for development of civil conclave," said the AAI official. "Majority of the required land is being used for agricultural purpose and people have not constructed houses over it."

The Bihta airbase is spread over around 900 acres, which is almost around the same expanse as Gaya International Airport spread over 975acres. The state road construction department is also soon going to commence work on four-laning of the Khagaul-Shivala-Bihta road, which would support the proposal of commencing civil operations from the airbase situated on the road a few kilometres before Bihta town area.

Terminal extension

The civil aviation ministry is keen on extending the existing terminal building at Patna airport for sustaining air operations from Patna at least till 2035. The AAI has sought 11.5 acres of land from the state government on the northern and southern ends of the existing terminal building.

"The annual passenger footfall at Patna airport is 15 lakh, whereas the passenger holding capacity of the existing terminal building is 5 lakh," said Choubey. "Besides, the annual passenger traffic increased by 32 per cent in the last fiscal (2015-16). Thus, there is an urgent need of extending the terminal building."

An AAI official added: "A new terminal building would be constructed, to be connected with the existing terminal building using skybridges."

The AAI has sought to take over the state hangar, which would provide it 5 acres of land for extending the runway on the northern side. Besides, 6.5acres of land owned by the Special Task Force (STF) located on the southwest side of the terminal building has been sought for extension on the southern side.

The issue over transfer of 6.5 acres of land belonging to STF is unresolved for the past three years despite the state cabinet giving its nod for its transfer to the AAI on January 15, 2013. The AAI had refused to buy this land by paying Rs 114.66 crore that the state government fixed as cost.

"As per the policy of the AAI across the country, the state government gives the land for free and the AAI develops the infrastructure (terminal building). However, in case of Patna, we would be transferring equitable land to the state government in return of land sought by us for extension of terminal building," said Choubey, adding that extension of the runway at Patna airport was not possible due to location constraints.

The AAI would give its land in Anisabad in return of the state hangar and STF land.

Long-term plan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced Rs 2,000 crore assistance for development of a greenfield (fresh) airport in Patna under his special package for Bihar on August 18 last year. While the present proposal of simultaneous flight operations from Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport and Bihta airbase is expected to sustain air operations for the next 35 years, four locations - Nalanda, Punpun, Fatuha and Danapur - have been proposed for developing a new airport.