The Raamaayanam describes an airborne vehicle, the pushapaka-vimaana. Leonardo da Vinci has made drawings of flying machines. But the credit goes to the Wright brothers (Wilbur and Orville) for the first proper human flying contraption. They launched human aviation with their successful flight on 14 December 1903. That was just 110 years ago. In that short time, we have not only become adept at flying near Earth, we have also flown things into outer space.

We continue to see rapid and vast advances in air travel technology (particularly jets) and infrastructure. Increasingly, airports are important hubs of economic activity. Our powerful executive wants to be able to do things quickly – not spend hours and hours trying to get into town from the airport through traffic jams and so on.

Not to worry, Madam Executive! We have an answer.


Aero – from Latin referring to air, aviation + polis – from the Greek for “city.” Its conception is attributed to New York-based commercial artist Nicholas deSantis (1939). More recently Dr. John D. Kasarda (2000) is said to have revived it.

An aerotropolis is a city that is centred on an airport. The airport functions as a city in its own right – many facilities (hotels, shopping, entertainment, food, business conferencing, etc.) are provided right there. Madam Jet-Setting Executive can fly in, conduct her business with counterparts right there, and fly out – with all the comfort of a city, without the traffic and other hassles. She can probably also save some good money.

Kasarda describes a good aerotropolis:

  • The airport, central business district (CBD), and major commercial centres should be well connected by surface transport.
  • Businesses must be located depending on how frequently they use the airport – higher frequency means closer to the airport.
  • Commercial and residential areas sensitive to noise should be located outside the high intensity flight paths.
  • Create cluster rather than strip development with green space in-between.
  • Develop mixed-use commercial/residential communities where airport and airport-area employees can commute easily to work while residing in affordable, human-scale neighborhoods.

Look at the diagram of his vision of an ideal aerotropolis (source:

There are several aerotropolises operating around the world. Examples include: Kuala Lumpur, Suvarnabhumi, Schiphol, and Dubai. Others are developing – yes, a few are developing in India as well!

The Kenan-Flager Business School, University of North Carolina (USA) says, that ideal aerotropolises “will not occur under most current airport area planning approaches which tend to be localized, politically and functionally fragmented, and often conflicted. A new approach is required bringing together airport planning, urban and regional planning, and business-site planning in a synergistic manner so that future Aerotropolis development will be more economically efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and socially and environmentally sustainable. The real question is not whether Aerotropolises will evolve around major airports (they surely will). It’s whether they will form and grow in an intelligent manner, minimizing problems and bringing about the greatest returns to the airport, its users, businesses, surrounding communities, and the larger region it serves.” (source:

A good understanding of geographical concepts, set of geographical analytical skills (with specialization in spatial analysis, regional development, urban, cultural, economic geography), and ability to use modern geographical tools of analysis including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will be a good ticket to work in the design and development of aerotropolises.


Download a worksheet related to this post (available in three formats):

Pushpaka vimaana  (Source: )

Pushpaka vimaana
(Source: )

Leonardo da Vinci's plan for a flying machine. (Source: )

Leonardo da Vinci’s plan for a flying machine.
(Source: )

First flight of the Wright brothers. (Source: )

First flight of the Wright brothers.
(Source: )

Schematic plan of an ideal aerotropolis. (Source: )

Schematic plan of an ideal aerotropolis.
(Source: )

(A version of this post was published in Deccan Herald Student Edition, 15 July 2013, page 1.)


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