Fate of Hyderabad’s existing airport hangs in balance

March 6th, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Mohammed Shafeeq
Hyderabad, March 6 (IANS) With just 10 days to go for the opening of the new international airport at Shamshabad near here, the fate of the existing airport at Begumpet in the heart of the city hangs in balance. One of the locals who want the old airport to stay operational has gone to court, while the builder of the new one wants it closed down.

The issue once again came to the fore when a parliamentary committee Wednesday asked the union government to renegotiate agreements with private parties developing greenfield airports in Hyderabad and Bangalore to ensure that the existing airports are not closed.

GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL), which has built the world-class airport at Shamshabad, about 30 km from the city, has said that it might opt for legal recourse if the existing airport is not closed as per the agreement.

“The subject of closure of the existing airport at Hyderabad is a non-issue because the decision was a well considered one by the government of India way back in 1999-2000 with the approval of the cabinet,” GMR said in a statement late Wednesday, hours after the parliamentary committee’s report was tabled in the parliament.

“The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport has been developed based on the terms and conditions of the concession agreement entered with the Ministry of Civil Aviation in December, 2004,” the statement said.

The agreement lays down that there should be no commercial airport within a 150-km radius of Shamshabad. GMR hopes that this commitment would be honoured.

Kiran K. Grandhi, managing director of GHIAL, has said that his company could go to court in the worst-case scenario.

The world-class airport, built in public-private partnership at a cost of Rs.25 billion, is scheduled to be inaugurated by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi March 14 while the commercial operations are scheduled to commence two days later.

The report of the parliamentary committee came close on the heels of a public interest litigation filed by a former IAS officer against the government’s decision to close down the existing airport.

B. Venkata Papa Rao, the petitioner, argues that cities like New York, Los Angeles and London have more than one airport. He sought a direction to the state and central governments to keep the existing airport open for domestic operations.

Andhra Pradesh High Court Wednesday directed the centre to explain why it should not admit the petition. While declining to give interim relief to the petitioner, the court has adjourned the hearing to April 4.

There is also a demand from a section of passengers that the existing airport should continue to operate as the new airport was far from the city and connectivity issues were yet to be fully resolved. They point out that travel to the new airport could take one-and-a-half hours, which is more than the flying time to most destinations within India.

The airport employees’ union is also demanding that the domestic terminal be retained at Begumpet. They argued that having two airports was feasible as passenger traffic was growing rapidly. The number of passengers handled by the airport last year was seven million, two-thirds of them domestic.

Minister for Civil Aviation Praful Patel, during his visit to the new airport last month, announced that Begumpet airport would be closed down for all commercial operations once the new airport starts. However, the existing airport will handle VIP flights. He has also assured that no employee at the existing airport would lose his job.

GMR, which holds 63 percent stake in GHIAL, feels that having two airports 30 km from each other is not convenient from any angle.

“It is not economically feasible. Having two air traffic controls within the city require sophisticated technology and it is also a costly proposition,” A. Vishwanath, vice president (corporate planning) GMR, told IANS.

“From passenger, air traffic and operation angles it is not convenient to keep the existing airport. People from destinations like Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada and Tirupati fly here to catch flights to international destinations. If you have separate airports for domestic and international operations, it will not work,” he said.

The Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is yet to issue a formal order for closure of Begumpet airport. It is expected to issue a note before shifting of the operations to the new facility.

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