Bangalore airport chief executive Brunner quits

November 21st, 2008 - 10:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Nov 21 (IANS) Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) chief executive officer (CEO) Albert Brunner is quitting the high-profile post and has decided not to renew his contract, the company said here Friday.“Brunner, who has been associated with BIAL for seven challenging years, has decided to move on and not extend his contract. The promoters have appointed chief operating officer (COO) Marcel Hungerbuehler as the new CEO from February 1, 2009,” the consortium said in a statement.

The Bengaluru International Airport opened for commercial operations May 24 at Devanahalli, about 35 km from India’s tech hub, amid controversies over the closure of the old HAL Airport in the city, poor road connectivity to the new airport and years of delay and cost overruns.

Swiss-born Brunner, who took over as CEO in 2002, steered the private-public consortium of BIAL through tough times to execute the Rs.26.4-billion greenfield project in a record 33 months after securing a plethora of clearances from the central and state governments.

“After seven years in this position, the time for a change has come. I came here on a three-year contract initially but ended up making Bangalore my home for seven years,” the genteel Brunner said in the statement.

Brunner was instrumental in initiating several firsts in the Indian airport infrastructure management. He has pioneered the public-private partnership (PPP) model for development of airports in the Indian sub-continent.

Hungerbuhler, who has been associated with BIAL since 2006, is a veteran in the aviation industry, having held top management positions with Swissair and Swissport previously.

The formal launch of the new airport operations was put off thrice for want of clearances, delays in air traffic control equipment, and completion of the linking road from the national highway (NH 7) to the airport. For this, the airport operator (BIAL) drew flak from the state government, politicians, a section of the industry and passengers. The teething troubles, inadequate facilities and high cost of charges levied on concessionaries, ground-handling agencies and amenities also caused much criticism.

On completion of five months of operations, Brunner admitted Nov 11 that the passenger traffic had hit an air pocket in the wake of global recession and turbulence in the Indian civil aviation sector, leading to drop in passenger traffic and pruning of flights by several carriers on the domestic and international routes.

“The air traffic has dipped drastically owing to the current global economic recession and losses suffered by the Indian civil aviation sector,” Brunner told reporters, giving an update on the airport’s operations.

BIAL has also suffered Rs.1.91-billion loss due to default in payment by various airlines and non-levy of the user development fee (UDF) on domestic passengers.

The financial meltdown and low passenger traffic have prompted BIAL to defer expansion plans by two years. The expansion included construction of the second runway for handling more domestic and international traffic.

“We’re struggling to keep ourselves afloat, mainly because we’re yet to get permission from the union civil aviation ministry to levy UDF on domestic passengers. Moreover, several airlines are yet to pay us for using the various amenities in the departure and arrival terminals, amounting to Rs.590 million,” Brunner said.

BIAL is estimated to incur a loss of Rs.220 million every month in the absence of UDF. The airport, however, has been collecting Rs.955 from every international passenger towards UDF since flights commenced.

BIAL is a consortium of Germany’s Siemens Project Ventures, Unique Zurich Airport and India’s Larson and Toubro Ltd (L&T) as promoters holding 74 percent of the equity stake, and the state-run Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Karnataka State Investment and Industrial Development Corporation (KSIIDC) holding 26 percent stake together.

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