Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Monday announced that 10 to 15 Greenfield airports would be built in the next few years to improve aviation infrastructure. The new airports at Chennai and Kolkata would be commissioned soon.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of the 49 Conference of Director General of Civil Aviation of Asia-Pacific region here, Mr. Singh said the government had drawn up a plan to modernise around 50 non-metro airports in the next two years.

Asked if the proposed venture of the Kerala government, Air Kerala, would be allowed to fly abroad, Mr. Singh said like all start-up airlines it would need to fulfil all criteria for various government approvals. “We will give sympathetic consideration to Air Kerala, but rules and regulations have to be followed.”

The government aimed at a double-digit growth in the aviation sector, Mr. Singh said, and added that “the huge middle class is growing, trade is growing, and India should achieve at least six per cent GDP growth.”

“There may have been a temporary setback as we see a decline at present, but air traffic is expected to grow substantially. We are growing at nine per cent at present, but hope to go into double-digit figures.”

Addressing the officials present at the conference, Mr. Singh clarified that while airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad had been built with private sector participation, new airports at Chennai and Kolkata were ready for commissioning. The government now permits up to 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment in Greenfield airports.

Referring to the controversial carbon tax being imposed by the European Union, which is being opposed by India and a large number of countries, he urged the delegates to oppose any unilateral environment measures imposed by a State or group of States like the EU-ETS (Emission Trading Scheme). Noting that India was a major corridor between the East and the West, Mr. Singh said the final operational phase and certification Gagan (GPS Aided Geo-Augmented Navigation) system, developed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Indian Space Research Organisation, was expected to be completed in June 2013.

Mr. Singh also refuted claims by Air India pilots that they weren’t getting their dues on a regular basis. “Their salaries may be a few months late, but for many months, they are getting paid regularly. They are being paid salaries regularly for the past five-six months. They are being paid every month,” he said. The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) had recently written to the Aviation Minister comparing their financial condition with those of Kingfisher employees.

He also denied receiving any letter from the ICPA on the issue. Air India has a total of 1,400 pilots, of whom approximately 600 owe allegiance to the ICPA.

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