The Ambani Magic at Jamnagar ‘International’ Airport: Tales of Temporary Transformation


In a remarkable turn of events, the usually quiet Jamnagar Airport in Gujarat has been thrust into the international spotlight. What was once a domestic airport is now temporarily transformed into an international gateway, all to accommodate the extravagant pre-wedding celebrations of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant, scions of two of India’s wealthiest families – the Ambanis and the Merchants. This unprecedented move has drawn attention not only for its grandeur but also for the logistical marvels required to pull off such an event.

At the heart of this transformation lies the Airports Authority of India’s (AAI) endeavor to establish a seamless Custom, Immigration, and Quarantine (CIQ) facility at the airport. This facility, set up with support from the Union Government’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Home Affairs, portrays the collaborative efforts of various stakeholders to ensure the smooth flow of international guests.

Jamnagar Airport is primarily a defense airport with limited commercial operations, however, ahead of the Ambani-Merchant wedding, it has undergone substantial adaptations to accommodate the influx of high-profile guests from all over the world. In a surprising but not unexpected turn of events, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has granted access to its sensitive ‘technical’ area, allowing for the accommodation of multiple aircraft simultaneously.

From a technical standpoint, the airport’s infrastructure has been significantly augmented to handle the increased air and passenger traffic. The passenger terminal building has been expanded to nearly double its original size, equipped to cater to the needs of over 360 passengers during peak hours. Also, additional manpower has been deployed across various verticals, ensuring that operations run seamlessly.

Often overshadowed by passenger operations and not being talked about in the whole Ambani fiasco, cargo operations at the airport, also play a pivotal role in its temporary transformation. While private jets ferrying guests dominate the airspace, commercial cargo flights, including those operated by Air India Express and SpiceJet, contribute to the ‘heavy vehicle’ that the logistics surrounding the event are. These cargo flights, carrying essential supplies and international delicacies, underscore the airport’s multifaceted role as a hub for both passengers and goods.

The designation of Jamnagar Airport as an international airport for this exclusive event may raise intriguing questions about the classification of airports for some. Traditionally, international airports are characterized by their ability to handle international flights, immigration, and customs procedures. However, in the case of Jamnagar, and a few more airports, the temporary conversion underscores the adaptability and versatility of modern aviation infrastructure.

An airport can be called ‘international’ if it is capable of having international flights and passengers arriving and departing from it. Even if it currently does not have such flights, it could potentially have them at some point of time. The designation can also be a way for an airport to signal its readiness and capability to handle international air traffic. These airports may offer select international routes or handle international charter flights, like in the case of the Ambani-Merchant wedding. The latter is especially true with smaller airports.

Washington Reagan Airport, formerly known as Washington National Airport, is another example of such an airport. Although it is primarily a domestic airport, it has the infrastructure to handle international flights, allowing it to serve as a port of entry for international arrivals and departures.

Furthermore, there are also airports that are labeled international but are relatively small in stature. As such, the only international flights they run are restricted to certain types of air traffic from the local area. An example would be Bellingham International Airport (KBLI), located in northern Washington, USA. While its 6700-foot runway is not long enough to handle large wide body commercial aircraft from overseas, it is sufficient for smaller general aviation flights arriving from nearby Canada, which is less than 50 miles away.