India's pioneer of low-cost carriers GR Gopinath is in talks with Cochin International Airport Limited, India's first privately operated airport, to set up a joint venture for dedicated cargo facilities across the country.
Sources in CIAL said these cargo facilities will be set up on a hub-and-spoke model. Nagpur or Hyderabad will act as cargo hubs and other small facilities across the country will be set up as the spokes with warehousing facilities. Several unused airstrips in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are being considered for the smaller facilities.
"Cargo facilities are something we are definitely looking at. While Gopinath will select the land, we will handle the operations of the airport," said S Bharat, CIAL managing director.
"The plan is still in the preliminary stages, but we have talked to CIAL for setting up cargo facilities," confirmed Gopinath, who is vice-chairman of the company which is in the process of being set up after the merger of Air Deccan with Kingfisher Airlines. Kingfisher had acquired a majority stake in Air Deccan and the merger was announced in December last year.
The cargo hubs are part of independent ventures by Gopinath that include a dedicated cargo airline, for which he is preparing a business plan.
According to sources, the hubs will cover around 800 acres of land and will entail an investment of over Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion).
The hubs will also have facilities like electronic data interchange, which enables the destination airport to access details of a cargo consignment before the flight lands. The hubs will also be a base for the cargo aircraft.
According to the government's greenfield airport policy, cargo facilities can also be set up like merchant airports allowing a private company to select the land and develop the airport without government funding.
The government's air cargo policy is expected in the next two or three months. Among other things, the policy will include the concept of cargo villages, which will act as hubs for checking and sorting out cargo consignments.
Gopinath, however, will have competitors. New freighter entrant QuikJet is planning to start operations to places like Nagpur, Ahmadabad and Indore by the second half of this year.
Blue Dart, meanwhile, is expanding its facilities across the country starting with a temporary facility at the Hyderabad airport at a cost of Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million) to Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) and expanding its facility at the Delhi airport. The carrier is also planning to expand its fleet of four Boeing 737 and three Boeing 757 aircraft by acquiring new ones.
While carriers like Spice Jet are starting their own cargo companies, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines are looking at starting dedicated freighter airlines soon.