With the Mopa airport expected to be commissioned in a matter of months, the focus has shifted to Dabolim airport. The question on everyone’s lips is: will the Dabolim airport be shut down?
The ball was set rolling by State Transport Minister Mauvin Goudinho, who said the airport would be shut down if facilities do not meet the mark. This sent the opposition into a tizzy, and the storm that Godinho kicked off refuses to calm down even though Chief Minister Pramod Sawant assured that both airports would remain open.
Mopa is around 35 km from Panaji and over 70 km from Salcete where some of the best five-star hotels are located. So it is natural for those in the South to be worried.
The new controversy looks like an old fear coming to the fore yet another time. Only now, the new airport is close to the finishing line. The first test flight was held some months back and now, more than ever, there is apprehension that once Mopa opens Dabolim will eventually shut down.
It certainly will not be sudden death but a slow, gradual and painful demise is definitely on the cards.
So, who gets to decide which airport remains open? Will this decision be taken by politicians in Goa or politicians in Delhi? Or perhaps none of them has a say in the matter.
The Mopa airport is a greenfield project. This means it is funded by private money. The truth is businessmen do not take money out of their pockets to build an airport. They dig into the deep pockets of banks, which are more than happy to fund such projects because it makes good business sense.
Now, to make a profit, the people running the new airport have to ensure that the maximum traffic is diverted towards their side. There are a lot of vested interests in ensuring that Mopa grows, even if it comes at the cost of Dabolim. Politicians cannot control this flow of traffic because decisions on where to land are taken by airlines. And it is already happening. Oman Air has already announced that from next year onwards all its flights will land at Mopa and not Dabolim.
Like it or not, the decision on which airport survives is going to be taken by airlines. And since no one wants to have staff at both airports, because this costs more money, they will choose one. Restriction on landing slots by the Indian Navy at Dabolim and incentives will play into this scenario.
No matter how one looks at it, one airport is likely to die a gradual death. The only exception to this scenario is if there are a sufficiently large number of passengers who want to travel to the South and if they are able to influence the behaviour of airlines.
For instance, what if one airline decides to divert flights to Dabolim, and it manages to get huge numbers? This and this alone could alter the fate of the Dabolim airport and perhaps breathe some life into it. The longer Dabolim survives, the harder it will get for Mopa to break even. Hence this could be a long attritional fight before a clear winner emerges.
Truth be told, the future of these two airports is going to be decided by economics, not politics.