The government is asking state-owned Air India to operate extra freighters to lift 100 metric tons of cargo a week from this month through May.
They would be in addition to the carrier's biweekly Boeing 747 freighter services from Delhi and Madras.The backlog at Delhi is 2,000 tons, about twice the normal amount, said P.S. Nair, general manager, cargo, for the International Airports Authority of India.
At one point last year, it rose to 2,600 tons. As part of measures to increase capacity, the government also is considering the creation of a specialized cargo loading company.
Official sources acknowledged Monday that while airborne trade accounts for 38 percent of India's exports and 25 percent of imports, demand far outstrips availability. This is particularly true in the two peak periods of January- June and September- December.
The Commerce Ministry, in consultation with export promotion councils and commodity boards, estimates that 253,000 tons of cargo must be moved between September of last year and July of this. That compares with 197,000 tons in the previous comparable period.
The range of goods carried by air is diverse, but the main items are textiles, ready-made garments and leather products.
Air exports of ready-made garments and textiles are expected to grow to 106,000 tons over the next five years from 63,000 tons now. Leather products are expected to increase to 87,000 tons from 56,000.
The United States is one of the principal markets for Indian garment exports.
Last year the government announced an "open skies" policy to ease cargo congestion. Under this policy, the government pledges to give consideration to private operators or associations of exporters to run air cargo operations on their own or in consortia with purchased or leased aircraft.
This policy has had only limited success because there is not enough inbound air cargo traffic, which means airlines charge higher rates for export cargo to compensate. These rates clash with cheaper rates of Air India, but it can normally lift only 30 percent of the cargo.