The Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi has some competition after all. Amritsar's Rajasansi airport has taken off literally on a new high with dozens of international flights landing and flying out - mostly booked to capacity. Figure this. With over 80 departures during peak time a week, the airport here has come of its own, especially after 2005. Out of the over dozen airlines that operate from here, eight have international flights. Even during lean season (May-August), the departures never fall below 60 per week. The total number of passengers handled by the airport here nearly touched 600,000 in 2006-07. Of these, 488,310 were international passengers while only 107,918 passengers were domestic ones. Thanks to Punjab's ever-increasing population of NRIs and also the attraction of coming to the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines, Amritsar has emerged as a destination in its own might. 'Amritsar is the new destination for international travellers. With so many NRIs around and people wanting to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple, this airport is bound to grow. People who were till now forced to go to Delhi for international flights can now easily board from here,' pointed out Amritsar-based builder Harvinder Pal Singh. Compared to the number of passengers it was catering to just a decade ago - 22,190 in 1997-98 - Amritsar's flight plan took off in 2002-03 with over 178,000 passengers that year. In 2006-07, the passenger growth touched 596,228. In just four years, the passenger growth is nearly three and a half times. Aircraft movement, which was 1,864 in 2002-03, touched 5,754 in 2006-07. The growth potential of this airport can be seen from the interest of various airlines to operate from here. Singapore Airlines has been operating from here for over one year. Malaysia's successful budget airline - Air Asia - is planning to start its first flights out of India from Amritsar in October. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan Airlines are already operating from here. Airport Director Arun Talwar is upbeat not only about the growth of passengers and flights from here but also the expansion plans for the airport. 'It is the fastest growing airport in the country. With cargo operations starting Aug 1, the airport will see even more fights. Last year, Amritsar beat Goa and Ahmedabad in terms of international passenger growth,' Talwar told IANS. Amritsar recorded 488,310 international passengers compared to nearly 400,000 at both Goa and Ahmedabad - both airports known to attract tourists and business visitors. The airport's terminal building is being renovated and expanded from its earlier covered area of 14,500 square metres to over 41,000 square metres. The building, which now has a passenger handling capacity of 500, will be able to handle 1,200 passengers by March 2008. The runway at the airport is being extended from its present length of 10,790 feet to 12,000 feet. The airport will have nine parking bays within a couple of months compared to the present three. The Punjab government is providing 44 acres of land to facilitate the expansion plans. 'The growth of this airport has been such in recent years that projected figures for future plans have already been surpassed. The new plans are in line with future requirements till 2015,' Talwar said. Even though it is tucked in the northwest corner of the state, Amritsar is only two-three hours away from industrial hubs Ludhiana and Jalandhar. New Delhi in comparison is 8-10 hours away. 'It is so convenient to take flights from here instead of going to Delhi. If only more airlines start their flights from here to Britain, US and Canada, Amritsar will soon be in the big league of airports,' says Rajdeep Abroal of Ludhiana.