Air travel in India has increased at a phenomenal rate in recent years, making India's domestic civil aviation market the fastest growing in the world. It's now regarded as the third largest domestic civil aviation market globally (after the United States and China). What's more, projections indicate that India's civil aviation market is poised to become the third-largest overall in the world by 2024.
The expansion is being driven by airport modernization, the success of low-cost carriers, foreign investment in domestic airlines, and emphasis on regional connectivity. Massive upgrades of major airports in India have been undertaken, with the significant input of private companies, and are still continuing as capacity is being stretched. India now has some much improved, glossy new airport terminals. Here are the details.
- Location: Palam, 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of the city center.
- Pros: Modern terminal with convenient access to downtown Delhi.
- Cons: Fog from December until February often delays or cancels flights.
- Distance to the City Center: A pre-paid taxi, which is recommended over a metered one, costs between $5 and $7. The journey takes 45 minutes to one hour during normal traffic. The Delhi Metro Airport Express, known as the Orange Line, costs less than $1 and takes 20 minutes.
Delhi competes with Mumbai for the accolade of best airport in India, although it has consistently been coming out on top in recent years. Delhi airport was leased to a private operator in 2006 and subsequently upgraded. The renovations to improve upon and expand the airport are ongoing but so far have included the addition of a new integrated international terminal (Terminal 3) and development of the AeroCity hospitality precinct adjacent to the airport. This precinct has many hotels and restaurants, and is connected to a Metro train station on the Orange Line. Currently, Delhi airport services almost 70 million passengers per year, making it the busiest in India. Once complete, the upgrade will increase the airport's capacity to 100 million passengers per year.
- Location: The international terminal is located at Sahar in Andheri East, 19 miles (30 kilometers) north of the city center. The domestic terminal is in Santa Cruz, 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the city center.
- Pros: The main terminal is modern and easy to navigate.
- Cons: Separate international and domestic terminals, requiring transferring passengers to take a cab between the two. Flight delays due to congestion on the runway. No direct public transportation options connecting the airport and city center.
- Distance to the City Center: A taxi will cost about $5 and will take one to two hours, depending on traffic.
Mumbai's airport handles about 50 million passengers a year, making it India's second largest airport. Similar to Delhi airport, it was leased to a private operator in 2006, and a new integrated international terminal constructed. The terminal, known as Terminal 2, opened in early 2014. Domestic airlines are currently in the process of relocating to Terminal 2 in a phased manner, although low-cost carriers still depart from the old domestic terminal in a different area. The new terminal has greatly improved the airport's functionality, yet runway congestion and consequential flight delays remain a significant problem.
- Location: Devanahalli, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the city center.
- Pros: The terminal is modern and well maintained.
- Cons It's far from the city.
- Distance to the City Center: A taxi will cost about $12 and take one to two hours, depending on the traffic. There's an airport shuttle bus that goes to the city center and costs $2 to $4, and it takes at least as long as a taxi would.
Bengaluru's airport is India's third busiest airport, with more than 33 million passengers a year. This brand new airport was constructed by a private company on a greenfield site and started operating in May 2008. Since then, it has been expanded in two phases. The second phase commenced in 2015, and involves the construction of a second runway and second terminal. For now, the airport only has one functional terminal that's used for both domestic and international flights. Bengaluru airport often experiences problems with fog early in the mornings during winter. If traveling then, be prepared for flight delays or cancellations.
- Location: Pallavaram, nine miles (14.5 kilometers) southwest of the city center.
- Pros: None (until renovations are completed in 2021).
- Cons: Currently under construction, poor infrastructure, safety concerns.
- Distance to the City Center: A 30 minutes taxi ride to the city center will cost about $4. The new Chennai Metro train also connects the airport with Chennai Central station on the Blue Line. It costs about $1 and takes 10 to 20 minutes.
Chennai is India's fourth busiest airport, and the main hub for arrivals and departures in South India. It handles more than 20 million passengers a year, about half of whom are flying domestically, and is owned and operated by the Indian government. Flights are currently split over three separate terminals, causing inconvenience to passengers. The airport is in the process of being expanded and redeveloped to increase its capacity to 40 million passengers per year. These works include building a new integrated international terminal (Terminal 2), repurposing old terminals, and linking all the terminals internally.
- Location: Dum Dum, 10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of the city center.
- Pros: Integrated domestic and international terminal.
- Cons: Fog in the winter delays flights. Inefficient customer service, poor maintenance.
- Distance to the City Center: A taxi costs about $5 and takes 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on traffic. There is a metro station at the airport—the fare is just cents, and takes about 75 to 90 minutes.
Kolkata's airport is an international airport but about 85 percent of the passengers are domestic travelers. It's India's fifth busiest airport and handles almost 22 million passengers a year. Like Chennai airport, Kolkata airport is owned and operated by the Indian government. The airport's old domestic and international terminals have been replaced by a much needed new integrated terminal (known as Terminal 2), which opened in January 2013. The airport's modernization resulted in it being awarded "Best Improved Airport in the Asia-Pacific Region" in 2014 and 2015 by the Airports Council International. New retail stores finally opened at the airport in 2017, providing passengers with something to do. Another expansion is in the works to further increase the airport's capacity, with the first phase expected to get underway sometime in late 2020 and be completed by 2023.
- Location: Shamshabad, 19 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of the city center.
- Pros: Environmentally-friendly, modern and hi-tech.
- Cons: A bit far from downtown Hyderabad. Currently undergoing expansion works, with some operations relocated to interim terminals.
- Distance to the City Center: Taxis cost between $7 and $14 and take one to two hours, depending on traffic. There's also an express bus that costs $1.50 to $3.50 and takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
Hyderabad airport opened in mid-March 2008. It's operated by a private company and handles just over 21 million passengers a year. The airport is world-class, with excellent facilities, and it has won awards for its eco-friendly initiatives. In 2019, the airport launched India's first biometric face recognition facility for domestic flights, eliminating the need for passengers to show boarding passes. The main drawback is that the airport is undergoing expansion works to accommodate the rapid rise in passenger numbers. While this is taking place, operations have been split between the main passenger terminal, Interim International Departures Terminal and Interim Domestic Arrivals Terminal.
- Location: Dabolim.
- Pros: Located equally between north and south Goa.
- Cons: Overcrowded, bad layout, bad infrastructure, lack of facilities. The airport is also closed from 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. five days a week, as military flight training is carried out there.
- Distance to Panjim: The 40-minute pre-paid taxi costs about $15. There is also a state-run, app-based taxi service called GoaMiles. Alternatively, an inexpensive shuttle bus service runs from the airport to Panjim, Calangute, and Margao (the main city in South Goa). It can be booked online here or at the airport.
Goa's airport is currently the state's only airport (a second airport is under construction in Mopa in North Goa). It's a government-run airport that operates out of a military base. The airport handled about 8.5 million passengers in 2019, making it the 9th busiest airport in India. However, its capacity is only 5 million passengers, which affects its functionality and results in overcrowding during peak times. The terminal is undergoing refurbishment and expansion but until that is completed expect delays and inconveniences.