On November 22 this year, the newly-constructed airport at Kalaburagi in North Karnataka was inaugurated by B.S. Yediyurappa, Chief Minister of Karnataka. This airport will connect Bengaluru with the Hyderabad-region. The 3.25 km runway of the Kalaburagi Airport is the second-longest in Karnataka after Bengaluru Airport. With Kalaburagi airport commencing operations, North East Karnataka region is set to have air connectivity to Bengaluru and the rest of India under the Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN) Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS). Speaking to the media, the Chief Minister said, “The people of the Kalaburagi were waiting for this day for many years. Now, under the UDAN scheme, the airport has become reality. We hope the industrialisation in this region will have good growth because of the airport.”
Kalaburagi is one of the 30 districts of the state of Karnataka and Kalaburagi city is its administrative headquarters. Kalaburagi is the new name of the erstwhile Gulbarga. Located in the Northern part of the state, the Kalaburgi district has common borders with districts in the states of Maharashtra and Telengana. In 2006, the then Gulbarga was classified as one of the 250 most backward districts out of a total of 640 in the country. Commissioning of a new regional airport is thus of immense significance not only for Kalaburagi district but for the state of Karnataka as well as it would provide the much needed boost to the economy of the region.
Development of a Greenfield airport in Kalaburagi which is located five km East of the city and was viewed as a new addition to India’s aviation map, has had a troubled history. The Government of Karnataka cleared the Gulbarga Greenfield airport project in March 2007 and on November 15, 2007, it awarded the contract to Gulbarga Airport Development Ltd, a consortium consisting of IL&FS Engineering and Construction Company Limited, NCC Infrastructure Holdings Ltd and VIE India Project Development and Holding. The contract was on a Build Operate Transfer basis. The agreement was finally signed on April 2, 2008 and the foundation stone was laid by B.S. Yediyurappa, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka on June 14, 2008.
The Gulbarga airport was to start operations by 2012, but was delayed due to financial mismanagement and dispute between the shareholders of the company. In January 2015, after an expenditure of 25 crore, the contract was finally terminated by the State Government. Thereafter, the responsibility of completing the airport project was assigned to the Karnataka State Public Works Department with technical assistance from RITES Limited. The airport was made ready for operations by August 2019 at a cost of 181 crore which was largely funded by the central government. This figure did not include the cost of 742 acres of land on which the airport is located. The runway at the Kalaburagi airport is around 3.25 km which is the second longest runway in Karnataka after the one at the Bengaluru International Airport. It is long enough for operating larger aircraft such as the Airbus A320. The 742 acres of land at the airport will allow for expansion of the airport infrastructure in the future. In August 2018, a trial landing was successfully carried out on the new runway at Kalaburagi airport.
The airport was formally handed over to the AAI on August 24, 2019. On behalf of the Government of Karnataka, the Karnataka Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KSIIDC), signed a Memorandum of Understanding with AAI to undertake further development, operations and maintenance of the airport. It took 11 years to get Kalaburagi regional airport operational while it took just three years in the case of Kempegowda International Airport at Bengaluru! The Kalaburagi airport began to operate commercial flights the day it was inaugurated. Currently, private carrier Star Air operates flights on UDAN routes on three days in a week with the twin-engine Embraer ERJ 145 regional jet capable of seating 50 passengers and provides services to seven Indian cities including Delhi, Hindan, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Tirupati, Hubballi and Belagavi. There are plans to operate chartered flights as well.
In August this year, after the Government of Karnataka approved the proposal for developing a Greenfield airport at Shivamogga, hometown of Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, at a cost of 38 crore, it made public its plans to substantially enhance regional air connectivity by building at least another 15 small airports across the state. Dialogue in this regard between the Government of Karnataka and AAI is in progress. The intention is to launch the project in the beginning of 2020. Hopefully, the Government of Karnataka has learnt its lessons from the Kalaburagi project and this new and rather ambitious project will not take as long as the Kalaburagi airport project did.
As part of the RCS, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has plans to commission 100 airports in the next 15 years at a cost of 4 lakh crore. Among these, 70 airports will be at new locations while the rest will be upgrade of existing airfields to handle commercial flights. These new airports will not only boost air connectivity between cities, but will also help reduce congestion at the existing major airports.