Praful Patel: Civil Aviation to Attract $150 Billion

AHMEDABAD -- Stating that civil aviation was one of the 'sunrise sectors' of the country, Union Minister of Civil Aviation Praful Patel today said the sector will attract 150 billion US dollars in investments over the next 10 years.

"It will be one of the sunrise sectors of our country like IT (Information Technology) and Telecom. It will redefine the contours of development in our country," Patel said in his inaugural speech at 'Confluence-2007', a business school meet organized by students of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA).

Civil aviation will be the future engine of growth of the country, Patel says, adding that India requires a national aviation grid consisting of about 500 airports.

"Today we have just 80 operational airports. In 2004 (when Patel took over the ministry), we had only 50 airports," he says.

"This number will go up to 100 by the end of 2008," Patel says. He adds that his ministry will set up 20 more airports in the coming year.

"We should also look at a great national aviation grid, where there would be at least 500 airports small and big spread across the country," he said, addressing about 1,200 participants from national and international B-schools.

"Nobody should be more than 50 kilometers away from the nearest airport," he says. "Similar grid exists in the United States where there were more than 5,500 small and big airports, while Europe has more than 3,000 airports".

"Why in India can we not have 500 airports?" he asked.

"I am making this point becasuse an airport drives economic activity".

"Domestic tourism did not pick up in India for the simple reason of the lack of air network," Patel says. He said India attracts just four million tourists annually, while places like Dubai and Singapore get tourists four times this number.

Patel said civil aviation should also be able to provide logistic support to new industries which need to transport "high-value and perishable cargo."

"We are also proposing a huge cargo facility at Nagpur," Patel says, adding that the city, which is in centre of the country, should be made the logistic centre of the country.

The minister said India had just 135 aircrafts in 2004. "Can you imagine a country 1.1 billion people, a country as big as a continent, where one has to travel vast distances, having just 135 aircrafts," he added.

"Similary, the base of people who flew in India was less than one percent of the total population," Patel said.

"In three and half years (of UPA government), we have brought civil aviation into the center stage. Civil aviation is no more a means of elist travel," Patel says, adding that it was no more just a means of transportation but rather as a driver of the economy and engine of growth.