Overview: India’s busiest airports

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The aviation sector is one of the fastest growing industries in India. The country has also become the third-largest domestic civil aviation market in the world. Here, we take a look at the situation across India’s leading airports.

How many and how busy?

Currently, India has a total of 153 operational airports. According to data from the Airports Authority of India (AAI), 114 are used for domestic services, 29 for international air travel and 10 serve as customs airports. With a plan to develop a further 100 airports in India by 2024, the country’s operational airport number would total 253.

During 2020, and the coronavirus pandemic, overall passenger traffic exceeded 341 million at airports across India. According to the Statista Research Department, this figure marks a slight difference compared to pre-pandemic traffic numbers, which totaled 344.7 million in 2019.

Due to the ongoing pandemic and international border closures across the globe, the number of passengers served at India’s international airports decreased to 66.54 million in the financial year of 2020 compared to 69.48 million in 2019. However, according to the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the number of handled passengers at domestic airports was almost indistinguishable, standing at 274.52 million in 2020 and 275.22 million prior to the pandemic.

Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi)

Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL), previously known as Palam Airport, is situated in Delhi, the country’s capital. The airport is the busiest in India and acts as the country’s main international gateway.

The first passenger terminal at DEL opened up in 1962. As a result of increased air traffic in the 1970s, an additional terminal, which was almost four times the size of the old Palam terminal, was constructed. With the inauguration of a second international terminal in 1986, the airport was renamed the Indira Gandhi International Airport. DEL airport has three terminals and the latest, Terminal 3, was opened in 2010.

In 2020, the airport welcomed around 67.3 million passengers, which was a decline of over 1% compared to 69.23 million passengers in the financial year of 2019.

DEL airport’s main carriers are Air India, AirAsia India, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Vistara, GoAir, Zoom Air, Quikjet Airlines and, Air India’s regional arm, Alliance Air.

The airport is also proud of its environmental initiatives. Delhi’s Gandhi International Airport is an accredited airport under the Airports Council International (ACI) Airport Carbon Accreditation programme. Additionally, Delhi Airport has installed a 7.84 MW solar power plant in the airside area, and it was the first airport in India to have such a facility.

Indira Gandhi International Airport was declared the Asia-Pacific Best Airport by Size and Region at Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards 2020 in the highest category of airports handling over 40 million passengers annually by Airports Council International (ACI).

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (Mumbai)

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM) is located in Mumbai, the second most populous city in India. BOM airport, formerly known as Sahar International Airport, was opened in 1942 and has two main terminals. T1 serves only domestic operations, while T2 serves both international and domestic flights.

BOM airport is the second busiest airport in India after Delhi in terms of domestic and international passenger traffic numbers. In 2020, BOM airport handled 45.87 million passengers. BOM airport is the main hub for two airlines, Air India and Vistara.

Alongside Indira Gandhi International Airport, BOM airport was awarded the accolade of Best Airport by Size and Region at the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards 2020.

The most recent accident in BOM airport was reported on December 16, 2015 when an Air India technician died in an accident after being sucked inside an Airbus A319 aircraft engine during pushback. The tragedy occurred when the co-pilot mistook a signal and started an engine.

The final investigation report stated: “The co-pilot stated that he got the ‘thumbs-up’ clearance. As per the statement of ground crew, no person had given the signal to the pilots.”

Kempegowda International Airport (Bangalore)

Kempegowda International Airport (BLR) welcomes passengers traveling to or from India’s southern city, Bangalore. BLR airport is relatively young, having been open for only 13 years. It commenced operations in 2008, 33 months after the start of construction.

BLR is the third-busiest airport in India and served a total of 32.36 million passengers during the course of 2020. BLR has established a route network, connecting to 61 domestic destinations and international markets across the world.

The airport has a single terminal that accommodates international and domestic flights. However, as part of the airport’s expansion plan, the first phase of Terminal 2 construction is expected to finish later in 2021, which will increase the airport’s capacity to an additional 20 million passengers.

BLR also serves as the main hub for low-cost air carriers AirAsia India, GoAir, IndiGo, Star Air and Alliance Air.

Chennai International Airport (Chennai)

Chennai International Airport (MAA) is located in the southeastern coast of Chennai and commenced operation in 1948.

The airport has three terminals. Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 serve domestic and international flights respectively, while Terminal 2 is used for cargo operations.

Chennai Airport is India’s fourth busiest airport. In 2020, the airport handled 22.27 million passengers. The busiest international routes from MAA airport include Dubai, Colombo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Doha, Muscat, Bangkok, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.

Chennai International Airport works as a hub for IndiGo, Alliance Air, Blue Dart Aviation, TruJet and SpiceJet.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport (Kolkata)

Kolkata’s International Airport (CCU), formerly known as Dum Dum Airport, is one of the oldest aviation hubs in India. It was built in 1924. Later, in 1995, the airport was renamed after India’s independence fighter, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

Kolkata’s International Airport is the largest hub for air traffic in the eastern part of India and the fifth busiest airport after Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. CCU airport handled 22.02 million passengers in 2020, and the airport operates flight services to Northeast India, China, Bhutan, Southeast Asia and Bangladesh. 

CCU airport is a main center for AirAsia India, Alliance Air, GoAir, IndiGo and SpiceJet.


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