India is the world’s seventh largest country covering the land mass of 3,287,263 sq.km. It is home to 132 civilian airports. Cities and towns in India are connected by several small and large domestic carriers.
India is connected with rest of the world by some 60 foreign airlines and about two dozen international charters who fly to the country seasonally. Indian airports also double up as bases for Indian Armed Forces, the world’s fourth largest military.
Landmarks of India’s civil aviation
The distinction of owning the first aircraft in India goes to Raja Bhupinder Singh, ruler of Patiala. The Maharaja of Patiala bought three French-built aircraft in 1910.
He bought a Bleriot XI designed by legendary aviator, Louis Bleriot. Two Voisin-Farman-I from another French aircraft maker, Avions Farman, also featured in the monarch’s feet.
The first passenger flight in India was recorded on February 18, 1911. The maiden, civilian flight on Indian subcontinent flew from Allahabad to Naini, covering a distance of just below 10km.
A 23-year old French aviator, Henri Pequet, flew a Humber- Sommer biplane carrying over 6,500 letters on the route. The event is enshrined in aviation history as the world’s first official airmail flight.
The second recorded civilian flight was flown by none other than India’s business doyen, Jehangir Ratanjee Dadabhoy Tata.
On February 10, 1929, Tata, fondly remembered as JRD became the first Indian to procure a flying license.
On October 15, 1932, JRD Tata flew a DH-80A de Havilland Puss Moth aircraft from Drigh Road airfield in Karachi to Juhu Aerodrome, Mumbai, carrying mail between the two port cities of pre-partition India.
International Airports in India
India ranks among the top 50 tourist destinations of the world. The country is the third-largest economy in the world by Gross Domestic Product- Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). Make In India and other initiatives have fuelled progress across India.
Tourism and business are supported by top international airports in India. Below are listed top 12 international airports in India along with their International Air Transport Association (IATA) designator codes.
1: Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru (IATA designator: BLR)
Awarded in 2017 as the Best International Airport in India and Central Asia by SKYTRAX. Kempegowda International Airport is considered one of the fastest growing in the world. In 2016-17, the airport recorded a whopping 22.5 percent Air Traffic Movement (ATM) growth- the highest in India.
During the calendar year 2016, Bengaluru airport handled 22.18 million passengers and 314.060 Metric Tons of airfreight. Over 45 airlines connecting some 65 domestic and foreign airports fly to Kempegowda International.
2: Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi (DEL)
IGI as it is commonly known, it is the 10th busiest international airport in Asia and 21st busiest in the world. IGI Airport connects India’s capital with rest of the country and the world. It handled close to 58 million passengers in the financial year 2016-17.
IGI Airport’s current capacity of handling annual 62 million passengers is being upgraded. Terminal-3 at IGI will raise passenger capacity to over 101 million per year.
3: Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai (BOM)
Mumbai served as India’s sole international gateway for decades before and after independence. CSIA ranks as the 14th busiest airport in Asia and 29th in the world for handling highest number of passengers.
CSIA handled over 46 million passengers in the fiscal year 2016-2017. In 2016 it won the Best Airport in India and Central Asia from SKYTRAX.
4: Arignar Anna International Airport, Chennai (MAA)
Chennai airport has served as the entry point to southern India since long. During the fiscal year 2016-17, Arignar Anna International Airport accounted for some 18.5 million passengers.
It consists of three terminals serving domestic and international flights. It was also India’s gateway to Far East Asia. However, increasing popularity of long-haul aircraft rendered this title redundant.
5: Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad (HYD)
The first airport in Asia to win the Level 3+ Carbon Neutrality certification for lowest pollution levels. RGIA Hyderabad is also the first airport in India to launch e-boarding. During the fiscal year 2016-17, RGIA handled 14.3 million passengers.
6: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata (CCJ)
True to Bengali patriotism, this civilian airport located in Dum Dum near Kolkata has served India the most during war times.
It was from Kolkata that Indian Air Force fighters downed three Sabre jets of Pakistan Air Force on November 22, 1971, marking the informal start of the Indo-Pak war. It played a pivotal role during the liberation of Bangladesh.
Kolkata was the biggest airport of post-independence India. NSC International handled 13.3 million passengers in 2016-17 for domestic and international flights.
7: Dabolim International Airport, Goa (GOI)
The most controversial international airport in India. This airport was built by erstwhile Portuguese rulers of the state. It was taken over by Indian Armed Forces soon after December 19, 1961, liberation of Goa.
Conflicts over increasing civilian flights erupted between various Goa state ministries, the Indian government and Indian Navy.
Dabolim is a major international hub of India receiving scheduled and chartered flights from across the world. All major Indian carriers have frequent daily services to Goa. It handled nearly nine million passengers in fiscal 2016-17.
8: Nedumbassery International Airport, Kochi (COK)
Known also as Kochi International Airport. It is the first in India to be developed with public-private partnership. Non-Resident Indians from Kerala made the heavy contribution for its development. It handled nearly eight million passengers during fiscal 2016-17, mainly expatriate Indians from the Middle East and foreign tourists.
7: Malabar International Airport, Kozhikode (CCJ)
A model airport for public-private partnership. Kozhikode is the hub of the Malabar region of Kerala. A large number of indigenous people migrate and live in the Middle East.
The airport was opened in 1998 amidst much fanfare. All major carriers from the Arabian Gulf region and airlines from India operate to Kozhikode.
8: Gaya International Airport (GAY)
This is a little known international airport of India, located in Bihar. But interest by foreign airlines will see this airport rise in popularity worldwide. The city Gaya or Bodhgaya is where Gautama Buddha got divine enlightenment.
Bodhgaya served as Buddha’s abode for several years. It gained prominence during the reign of Emperor Ashoka. Followers of Buddhism from Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and other countries converge upon Bodhgaya every year.
To cater to Buddhist pilgrims, several foreign airlines operate scheduled and seasonal flights.
9: Sardar Vallabhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad (AMD)
Over the last three years, SVPI Airport is becoming increasingly important. Rapid industrialization has seen Gujarat state receive billions of dollars in foreign investments. In the financial year 2016-17, SVPI accounted for little over seven million passengers.
10: Guru Ramdas Jee International Airport, Amritsar (ATQ)
This prime airport in Punjab is slated to develop further. It handles several domestic and foreign flights daily from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
Amritsar airport is a lifesaver for several pilots and passengers. Flights that cannot land in New Delhi due to winter fog are diverted to Amritsar.
11: Trivandrum International Airport: (TRV)
It is the first airport in Kerala state. Trivandrum International serves as a major hub for flights connecting South India to the Middle East and parts of Europe. Flights from Sri Lanka and Maldives also cater to Trivandrum.
12: Bajpe International Airport, Mangalore (IXE)
Only Indian carriers connect Mangaluru with foreign countries. Air India operates flights to the Middle East, Far East, and Europe from Bajpe International. There are plans to allow foreign carriers to Mangalore in future. The airport is controlled by the Indian Navy.