Air travel in India is expected to grow significantly over the coming decades, largely thanks to an ever increasing middle class that can afford the luxury of flying to get around what is a very large country. Many of its airports have already received significant investment and have been expanded in anticipation of such growth, although the pandemic has clearly put that on hold for now. In this post, we’re going to look at the busiest airports in India, both before Covid-19 and since.
The data comes from the Airports Authority of India. Figures are rounded up or down to the nearest 100,000 in all cases. The five busiest Indian airports below are ranked according to 2019/20 figures (April 2019-March 2020), the last year when domestic and international air travel was not severely impacted by the pandemic, although the final few weeks of that period were.
The Busiest Airports in India by Passenger Numbers
1. Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi
The number one airport in India, in terms of its importance and passenger numbers, is Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International. With over 67 million passengers per year before the pandemic, it ranked as one of the busiest Asian airports and was the main gateway into the country for overseas travellers with around 18 million international visitors in 2019/20.
For such a large and important airport, it is surprising how centrally located it is with only around 10 miles separating Indira Gandhi International from New Delhi city centre. There are good metro and rail links too and expansion plans mean the airport should be able to handle up to 100 million passengers by 2030 which would see it shoot up to be one of the three busiest airports in the world based on current figures.
International passengers will arrive at Terminal 3 which was opened in 2010 to coincide with that year’s Commonwealth Games in the city.
Number of Passengers from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020: 67.3 million
2. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai
The second busiest airport in India is Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. While it has two runways, only one is operational at a time with around 50 movements per hour during peak times meaning there are planes taking off or landing in Mumbai almost every minute. It is the busiest airport in the world with only one operational runway.
It is also one of the most improved major airports globally. Anyone who arrived in Mumbai (Bombay) in the early 2000’s or earlier would have been greeted by fairly poor, uninspiring facilities. However, despite limited space to work with, the airport has been almost completely renovated and modernised since then with its stylish roof canopy the most defining feature. There’s even room for it to house an impressive art gallery.
However Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is already operating at close to and sometimes beyond capacity and construction is already underway for a new airport which will significantly ease the strain. Navi Mumbai International Airport is expected to open in 2024 and following expansion should eventually have a much increased capacity of 90 million passengers per year.
Number of Passengers from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020: 45.9 million
3. Kempegowda International Airport, Bangalore
Bangalore is another city with an airport that is clearly geared towards coping with future demands for more air travel. The city ranks as one of the best places to live in India with a large IT sector employing a big portion of Bangalore’s population.
It benefits from a modern feel and sensible design having only opened in 2008 to help ease congestion issues at the outdated HAL Airport which had been the main entry port into the city until that point.
Kempegowda is easily one of the best of the 34 total international airports in India and passenger numbers had trebled in the space of a decade until the pandemic hit. Once things get back to normal, we can expect that trend to continue with plans already in place for a third runway, despite the airport’s second runway only opening in 2019.
Number of Passengers from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020: 32.4 million
4. Chennai International Airport, Chennai
Chennai International Airport comes in at number four in this list of airports in India, ranked by their 2019/20 passenger numbers. It’s someway behind Bangalore but still attracted over 20 million passengers per year during normal times with growth and development plans expected to see it hit a peak capacity of around 40 million per year by 2035.
Opened way back in 1948 as Madras Airport, it’s one of the oldest in India but has undergone extensive renovation in recent years. 2013 saw the introduction of new international and domestic terminals, however there has been criticism of the airport’s design due to the number of incidents where ceiling panels have collapsed during heavy rain or strong winds.
Number of Passengers from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020: 22.3 million
5. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata
In at number five is Kolkata’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport which is nearing its centenary year having opened in 1924. Like many Indian airports its full name is a bit of a mouthful with locals preferring the slightly simpler Dum Dum Airport or just Kolkata.
Its easterly location in the state of West Bengal, makes it a hub for flights to nearby Bangladesh as well as a number of Southeast Asian airports, although the vast majority of its services are to other cities in India. Plans are in place to double the airport’s capacity including the total demolition of the old domestic terminal with a modern 7000 m² structure set to replace it.
Number of Passengers from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020: 22.0 million
Top 10 Busiest Airports in India
|Number of Passengers in 2019/2020
|Number of Passengers in 2020/2021
Above you can see the ten busiest airports in India in the 12 months between April 2019 and March 2020 alongside a comparison to the 2020/21 year which was badly affected by the pandemic. Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport saw the biggest decline in percentage terms with a 75.9% drop in passenger numbers on the previous year.
Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport was the least affected by the pandemic, rising two places to be the fourth busiest Indian airport in 2020/21, although even that suffered a 62.8% drop.
The makeup of the top 10 busiest airports in India in 2020/21 was the same as in 2019/20 with the exception of Patna’s Jay Prakash Narayan Airport which rose five places to 9th, knocking Pune out of the top ten.
India Airports Map
This post was published in November 2021.