WASHINGTON: The operator of New Delhi’s revitalized airport said Thursday it hoped to enter the United States if the world’s largest economy moves to privatize its aging network.
New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, once notoriously cramped and lacking in amenities, expanded in 2010 by building the world’s eighth largest terminal, which sprawls for 1.5 square miles (four square kilometers) and has allowed a more than doubling of passenger traffic.
The terminal was built in 37 months — a major achievement in a country where infrastructure projects routinely are delayed for years — through a public-private partnership headed by the Bangalore-based GMR Group.
Indana Prabhakara Rao, chief executive officer of the Delhi airport, said that the company is making known that it is interested in investment in the United States, where virtually all airports are publicly owned.
"As and when airports come open for private participation, we are there to get into this," Rao told AFP on a visit to Washington where he was taking part in US-India aviation talks.
"We have expertise from end to end, from concept to commission, operation to maintenance,” he said. "We are a global player. We are not a domestic player anymore."
GMR Group, in a consortium involving Malaysia Airport Holdings Bhd, upgraded and operates Istanbul’s second largest airport, Sabiha Gokcen, and is bidding to expand the airport in Cebu, the second largest city and tourist gateway of the Philippines.
With its growing middle class, India forecasts that it will become the world’s largest aviation market by 2020 after the United States and China.
But the South Asian country’s latent growth has kept it off the world’s map of aviation hubs which have sprouted up in Southeast Asia and Gulf Arab kingdoms.
For its airport in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, GMR Group has sought to develop a model in which it draws traffic through attractions such as conference and airplane maintenance facilities.
S.G.K. Kishore, chief executive officer of the Hyderabad airport, said that the United States, despite its more mature aviation market, could "learn from the experience of India."
"You have airports which have not been developed or refurbished for the last 20 years. There is a huge opportunity in again bringing the US infrastructure to a stage where it gets global recognition," he said.
The United States has long pushed India to open sectors such as retail to private competitors. But in aviation, the United States has only one privately built airport — in the Americana entertainment town of Branson, Missouri.
In 1996, Congress approved a plan to privatize a limited number of existing airports but the only one that has moved ahead is Luis Munoz International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The most prominent US airport considered for privatization was Chicago Midway, the budget carrier hub in the Midwestern metropolis. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel in September ended the effort to privatize Midway, saying that the offers were not attractive enough.
Emanuel said that the main motivation to privatize Midway was to generate badly needed revenue for Chicago to help the city improve schools, public transportation and other infrastructure without raising taxes.
Other countries have embraced airport privatization including Brazil, which expects passenger numbers to soar for the World Cup and Olympics, and Britain.-- AFP