“Savio, Mopa airport decision is a political decision. Neither you nor I can do anything about it or reason with the government on this,” expressed a former Airports Authority of India (AAI Director) who had done the first feasibility study on Mopa (at that time his brief was only Mopa as the Central and State government felt Dabolim with its restrictions would saturate).
So I retorted, “So should we just allow the Centre or State ignore the facts because of politics.”
Dabolim-Mopa conundrum has been in the pipe-line since 1998 (GoaChronicle.com has in its position documents of the meeting when the decision for Mopa was finalised). The first time the people agitated, Centre & State (Under Congress) decided to retain Dabolim for civilian operations (but tactfully ignored commercial operations) which meant private-jets or helicopters not scheduled airlines. That however was noticed last year and the BJP now in the ruling has pushed the Centre to retain Dabolim Airport (with documentary evidence) and the Centre on its part has put Mopa on a fast-track process. These steps indicating that Centre & State are both working towards the Mopa airport. Second, they have answered the people’s query to retain Dabolim Airport and even spent Rs 550 crores to build a new airport terminal.
If Dabolim & Mopa are both to co-exist. Then there should not be any apprehension from the people of Goa (especially South Goa). Yet the Dabolim-Mopa issue has to come to the fore with Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar surging ahead with GMR and it’s construction partnership firm Phillipines-based Mega Worldwide Constructions through its SPV – GMR Goa International Airport.
This time though the agitation is moving with another valid moot point. The moot point is based on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) report which clearly states that ‘dual airport system is the second-best option’. It also stresses, ‘if political compulsion’ form the basis of the decision making process. This report being the second report, first one of course focussed purely on Mopa (because Dabolim according to ICAO 2005 report would be saturated after 15 years or a threshold of 7 million plus passengers at Dabolim). ICAO as a report is clearly focussing on Mopa being the main airport. It decided to consider Dabolim, because of the Anti-Mopa agitation around 2005 and a brief by the Goa government to look at the dual airport model, therefore in its ICAO 2007 report it takes a stand saying dual airport is second-best option. And quite frankly any aviation expert will tell you that single-airport system is a small passenger load point like Goa is the best option. But nowhere in the ICAO report does it say that dual-airport system is not an option at all. And that is what the Centre and State are using as their moot point.
The biggest fear that many people have in South Goa is that Mopa Airport would be the eventual closure of the Dabolim Airport and the subsequent failure of the South Goa Tourism and Business market. That fear of Mopa being the single-airport is not unreal, it is very real; without Dabolim Airport, South Goa Tourism is finished. Also the point that with another airport in Goa, Navy could up the ante on demanding for the hand-over of Dabolim to the Indian Navy, since Goa already has Mopa. That is also a very real fear, Navy for defense purpose can do that and might do that as well. Because it is not necessary that a Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) approval should be abided by the Ministry of Defense (MoD). Also with a private-player investing a large sum into an airport infrastructure project, there is all possibility that a demand for a single airport be made.
AAI has now changed its stance on the Mopa Airport and is advocating the need for Mopa Airport and throwing figures to the media that its former colleagues contested. The Chairman Dr Guruprasad Mohapatra spoke to media last week making a case for the dual airport success plan. The question the Chairman fails to answer how will the dual airport strategy work when his predecessors contested the same.
Now that GMR has decided go ahead with the Mopa project as a developer even though Dabolim exists, then it is doing it not so much for the airport revenue that is driving his business interests, but then non-airport revenue. The real estate business will off-set the eventual non-viability of the airport operations even if we set up a cargo hub, MRO centre or airlines to set-up hubs in the Mopa Airport.
The reasoning that Goa will need an airport in the future because of increasing numbers depends on how we want to position Goa in the coming years. If Goa needs to become a metropolis like Singapore, which every political party has been advocating, then Mopa needs to become a reality with Dabolim.
But is that what Goa should become. Goa being modelled around Singapore is probably the wrong assumption in the first place. Goa can develop in the economic spectrum but it is not about the quantity but quality of our positioning. We can become a tourism centre, healthcare, education and even IT major player; for which we would need related infrastructure but when do we start planning for an infrastructure if we do not have a plan.
Centre’s focus has been to develop all states in keeping the overall growth, for them Mopa is looked at benefiting both Goa and South Maharashtra. And to a certain extent the State governments felt that it would propel economic growth in Goa, that’s how Mopa came about.
The question is nobody ever defined how economic growth in Goa was to happen. If just by building the airport, economic growth would be spurred on, is old-school thought with today’s competitive global scenario. Goa must define its economic growth and plan infrastructure around it. It’s a clear chicken and egg situation.