India is developing an ambitious plan to boost the country’s fledgling airport infrastructure. Economic planners estimate the voracious appetite for commercial air travel will require an investment of about $30 billion by 2020. Now at 100 million passengers per year, traffic is expected to reach 180 million by 2015 and 300 million by 2020, according to Ministry of Civil Aviation estimates.

More than 20 proposals are currently under consideration for greenfield airports, and some $3 billion is expected to be spent on the sector in the next three years. The to-do list includes the newly approved Mumbai Airport, expected to cost $2 billion; upgrades to smaller airports; a greenfield airport at Mopa in Goa, with a consultant soon to be named; and the Pakyong airport in Sikkim, where construction has started.

There are 12 major greenfield airports granted “in principle” approval in various stages of planning and land acquisition, including a 1,277-acre airport for Kannur, a city in the southwestern state of Kerala that hopes to boost tourism. Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corp. will oversee construction under a build-own-operate contract. State-owned Maharashtra Industrial Development Corp. will fulfill a similar role at a new airport for Sindhudurg in Maharashtra, which also aims to increase tourist traffic.

Around 50% of the land has been acquired for greenfield airports in the state of Karnataka, including the cities of Gulbarga, Bijapur, Hassan, Shimoga and Bijapur. The state government signed a project development agreement with Jupiter Aviation Logistics in 2007 for Gulbarga.

Meanwhile, the Airports Authority of India, a government agency that manages 125 airports around the country, currently is upgrading 58 airports worth around $120 million. Construction has started on about 25 of these airports, an AAI spokesman says.

The request for proposals for the 1,405-hectare Navi Mumbai airport—expected to handle 10 million passengers in its first year of operation—will be out in June, says a Ministry of Civil Aviation official. The project will require significant land development, including leveling a hill, rerouting the Ulwe River and shifting transmission lines.

Private companies will invest 74% equity and manage Navi Mumbai, similar to the model for airports in Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bengaluru that are owned and operated by a consortia led by GMR Infrastructure Ltd. and GVK Power and Infrastructure Ltd.

Furthermore, India is investing in infrastructure related to air cargo. In northern India, an exclusive cargo airport in Badon, Teheri Garhwal, recently won government approval. The Ministry of Civil Aviation also is considering an international cargo airport on the outskirts of New Delhi. With an annual volume of about 500,000 tons, the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi is the country’s second-largest domestic airfreight hub after Mumbai.

The Airports Authority of India is encouraging commercial development on the city side—that is, land available to airports outside the terminal buildings—through public-private partnerships at 10 regional airports. While present zoning allows only hotels and parking garages to be built on the city side, the rules are expected to be relaxed to include commercial complexes, golf courses and convention centers, expanding opportunities for developers.

“It is important to look beyond hotels [to] commercial buildings and software parks that could attract more business and investment,” says Satyan Nayar, secretary general of the Association of Private Airport Operators. “Many hotels near airports in Indian [metropolitan areas] are not doing well as they are intended for [international] transit passengers, of which there is a low volume since no airport is a hub for the region as yet.”

Long-term 30-year leases, which can be extended by another 30 years, are being implemented to ease land issues that may have discouraged city-side development in the past.

Besides terminals and city-side development, there is an urgent requirement to upgrade runways, set up maintenance repair, and overhaul facilities and other structures. In Mumbai and Delhi for instance, new air traffic towers being planned will cost $85 million.

All RFPs for new airport construction and upgrades will include sustainable technologies, says Charan Dass, joint director of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which could open opportunities for Western firms to supply their products not available now in India.

“India is viewing high-value products not available as yet here,” says an AAI spokesperson. “Opportunities that exist in India for civil and engineering works include site development, construction supply, fencing, patching, paving, road, rock, roofing, terminal buildings and use of specified materials including toughened glass with steel.” Speaking to business leaders in New Delhi last year, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue said, “There has never been a better time or opportunity to lift U.S.-India trade and investment relations to a whole new level. We want to build many of your airports.”