New Bangalore airport launch put off to Saturday (Lead)

May 21st, 2008 - 10:29 pm ICT by admin  

Bangalore, May 21 (IANS) The launch of the new international airport at Devanahalli, about 40 km from this IT hub, has been put off by a day to May 24, the promoters said here late Wednesday, citing a belated notification from the civil aviation ministry. “We have just received a notification from the ministry that the new airport would be commissioned with effect from 00:01 hours IST of May 24 instead of May 23 as notified earlier,” Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) CEO Albert Brunner said in a statement.

Accordingly, all flights landing and departing after Friday midnight will operate from the new airport. So also those flights arriving before midnight of May 23 but departing in the wee hours of Saturday will operate from the new airport.

Incidentally, BIAL received the ministry communique a few minutes after Bruner told a crowded press conference at the new airport about the consortium’s preparedness for launching the commercial operations just after Thursday midnight (May 23).

“We are taken by surprise. In fact, we have just closed a press conference communicating our preparedness for Friday take-off. There is nothing we can do at this point. All our efforts are towards minimising passenger and airline inconvenience owning to this postponement,” Bruner lamented.

State-run Air-India will fly the first aircraft to Singapore a minute into Saturday (00:01 hours IST of May 24).

Around the same time, the city airport, which has been part of Bangalore’s bustling life for over seven decades, will shut down for commercial operations though it will remain functional for VVIP flights and chartered services. Operated by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the airport will also be used for defence services.

Built at a cost of Rs.25 billion ($625 million) in record 36 months by BIAL, a consortium of private-public partnership, the greenfield airport will have a soft launch, as Karnataka is in the midst of assembly poll and the code of conduct will be in force till the poll process is completed May 28.

“Once a popular government is formed after the poll, the airport will be formally inaugurated in the presence of the state and central ministers on a suitable date in June,” the official said.

The airport has been ridden with controversies, litigations, protests and cost over-runs. Its much-awaited launch had been put off twice in the last two months, on March 28 and May 11, due to delays in getting and installing imported equipment for the air traffic control (ATC) tower and imparting mandatory training for its newly recruited staff.

With Bangalore expanding exponentially in all directions since the mid-1980s, the HAL airport’s location is considered to be in the heart of the city, as it is just six km from downtown and 10 km from the state secretariat.

As Bangalore became India’s IT hub and the world’s back-office for outsourcing and off-shoring, the HAL airport witnessed a phenomenal increase in domestic and international passenger traffic, choking its limited capacity.

In spite of infrastructure constraints and traffic congestion, the city airport has been handling about 320 services a day to fly in and out 35,000-40,000 passengers daily.

From Saturday all that will be history, as the new airport begins its operations amid protests against closure of the HAL airport and concern over connectivity to Devanahalli through the city’s notorious gridlock.

The new airport will be operated for 30 years by the consortium consisting of Siemens Project Ventures, Larsen & Toubro, Unique Zurich Airport, the Karnataka government and AAI under build-operate-and-transfer (bot) model.

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