While inaugurating the Sikkim airport on 24th September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Today, it is not only a historic day for Sikkim but also for the country. With the inauguration of the Pakyong airport in the state, the country got its 100th operational airport.” Soon ‘fact checkers’ were working in full force to prove the figure wrong. Unfortunately for the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the figures put by them in the public domain prima facie appear contradictory. Here is the excerpt from the message of Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Civil Aviation and Commerce & Industry from the coffee table book released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation [pdf].
Suresh Prabhu claims as of 2013, 76 airports were scheduled for operations by air carriers.
In December 2014, in a response to a question raised in the Lok Sabha regarding number of operational airports, former Minister of Civil Aviation, Ashok Ganapathi Raju had said there are 125 airports/civil enclaves in the country managed by Airports Authority of India (AAI), of which 94 airports/civil enclaves are operational.
This year in July, Minister of State in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Jayant Sinha, in response to the question, how many functioning airports are there in the country, he said that the AAI owns 129 airports/civil enclaves in India, of which 101 are operational. [pdf]
OpIndia.com reached out to Ministry of Civil Aviation for clarity on the figures. A senior official from the ministry explained, “There is a difference between an operational airport and an operational airport which has flights scheduled for the common person.” He elaborated, “An airport is operational if it has basic facilities in place, like security, fire station, there is someone manning the airport, keeping it running, whether or not it is open to general public. For example, Bikaner Airport is an operational airport, but there was no scheduled commercial flight for which the general public could buy tickets. Now, with the UDAN scheme of the Central government which aims to increase regional connectivity, the airport is not only operational, it has also got scheduled flights operated by Alliance Air which regularly arrive and depart from the airport. Similarly, Sikkim airport is the 100th such operational airport from which have regular scheduled flights will take off and land. This is the difference between an operational airport and an airport in regular use by the travelling public.”
So essentially, there are over 400 airports, airstrips, flying schools and military bases available in the country of which 130 or so airports are operational, but only 100 (including the newly inaugurated Sikkim Airport) has scheduled flights arriving and departing at these operational airports. Thus, there are now 100 airports available for the common person.