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November 05, The prime selfie spot for residents of this central Indian city isn't its decaying 16th century royal fort or its world-famous marble market. It's the terminal at Kishangarh Airport in Rajasthan - a small, low-slung building that offers a new gateway to the world.
Kishangarh is one of 34 airports opened in the past 18 months in India, whose aviation sector has exploded in the wake of massive economic growth. As millions of newly wealthy Indians take to the skies for the first time each year, the country is scrambling to transform colonial-era airstrips into plush airports, and suddenly stretched airlines are investing in new planes and recruiting foreign pilots.
In the s, the small, family-run marble companies here turned into multinational corporations, generating wealth that lifted the whole population. Even as it retains its sleepy, small-town vibe, the city draws billionaires' wives, cricket champions and television stars looking to decorate homes, temples and malls - and who now arrive for their marble-shopping visits on chartered private planes or helicopters rather than by car or train.
Traders anticipate that the new commercial air connection to Delhi will bring even more customers wanting marble tiles for walls and floors. Only two weeks after the first commercial flight began, the novelty of the airport was already wearing off for residents and the possibilities sinking in.
Such surging demand should in theory lead to profits for India's airlines.
In practice, though, the companies are struggling to cash in because of a combination of surging fuel prices, a weak rupee and fierce competition that keeps ticket prices low.
In July, share prices of InterGlobe Aviation, the parent company of India's biggest airline, IndiGo, plunged 10 percent when it announced quarterly results showing a 97 percent dip in net profits since the previous year. Despite the cash crunch, big airlines are under government pressure to expand services even on financially risky routes.
InPM Modi, eager to promote affordable aviation as part of a huge package of social improvements, launched the Regional Connectivity Scheme, which aims to connect small Indian towns to the aviation map through subsidized new routes.
But in the aviation sector, at least, those lofty ambitions have been accompanied - and tempered - by disarray. Air Deccan and Air Odisha, which collectively bagged 84 of the contracts offered in the first phase of the new connectivity program, canceled more than half their flights in September, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation DGCA.
Embarrassingly, one of the airports PM Modi personally inaugurated in September, in the industrial town of Jharsuguda, had flights for only two weeks before abruptly halting operations. An official at the Airports Authority of India, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the flights were stopped because of internal problems at the airline, Air Odisha, and would be resumed soon.
Meanwhile, as small towns struggle to set up new routes, major airports are beset with delays and cancellations. Mumbai airport, India's busiest, reported delays on one in four of its domestic flights in September, according to the DGCA.
And like New Delhi's airport, it is running out of landing slots, making it impossible to add new routes. For the millions of Indians being initiated into their country's new aviation era each year, the experience can be chaotic and unglamorous.
But for Gyana Devi, a year-old schoolteacher flying for the first time on a wobbly Bombardier to her hometown of Kishangarh, it is also magical. Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.Further, it includes statistics in respect of international traffic to/from India to various countries, domestic traffic carried by scheduled, non-scheduled and air taxi operators and traffic carried on tourist charter flights and flights operated under Open Sky Policy for all-cargo services.
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