The country has spent more than USD 50 million since 2009 on eight airports that do not receive scheduled flights - white elephants that are a reminder of the pitfalls for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he bets on an infrastructure drive to fuel growth.                

"They (the government) need to realise it's not a case of 'build the airport and we will come'," said Sanjiv Kapoor, chief operating officer at SpiceJet Ltd. The private sector airline last year ceased flying to a new airport in the Southern city of Mysore because of insufficient demand.

India's ghost terminals were built largely by the previous government, which planned 200 'no frills' airports, encouraged by rising air travel and the need to connect far-flung regions.

But the empty check-in desks and cavernous baggage halls highlight the risks for Modi, too, of catering to powerful regional bosses and spending without a unifying strategy.

The Civil Aviation Ministry declined to comment on whether Modi government would stick with the 200 airport growth plan. But the incentive to grow in less-developed regions remains: on Tuesday, Modi pledged 27 billion rupees for four new airports in the impoverished state of Bihar, which holds elections this year.

"The AAI (Airports Authority of India) has invested in some airports without any economic logic," said Kapil Kaul, Delhi-based chief executive at consultancy Centre for Aviation (CAPA).

"Every state government wants to have a big airport, but you have to look at it from a national perspective and say where do we need airports, where is the demand and the growth coming from?" he said.

Across India, more than half of the 100-odd domestic-only airports operated by AAI have not seen a scheduled flight this year, official data shows, though some are older airports designed primarily for chartered planes.

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