New Bangalore airport set to turn one - quietly

May 23rd, 2009 - 10:44 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Maitreyee Boruah
Bangalore, May 23 (IANS) The new Bengaluru International Airport starts its second year Sunday without any fanfare. Yet to be officially inaugurated or christened, the airport has got mixed reviews from passengers during the first year of its operations.

“The new airport is very far from the city. It takes a lot of time to commute because of heavy traffic. We lose precious time and that is not good for us,” Ved Pathak, a software professional, told IANS.

He was reflecting views expressed earlier by Biocon Chairperson Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Infosys Director Mohandas Pai who had campaigned for retention of the old government-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd airport located within the city. The new airport is 35 km away from the centre of this city.

“The toilets at the new airport are cramped and not well maintained. We expect better facilities in an international airport,” remarked K. Vishwanathan, a marketing executive.

But Sushmita, a student of business management, said: “It is definitely better compared to the old airport. The place is swanky with lots of eatouts. I quite like it.”

The airport made a wobbly takeoff May 24 last year, amid protests, legal battles and criticism over poor road connectivity. Today, it is a beehive of activity, with 280 aircraft landing or taking off per day and thousands of passengers arriving or departing.

“After trials and tribulations of the first few months, we hope to see a change in our fortunes in the second year as we have accomplished a lot against heavy odds,” said a beaming Marcel Hungerbuehler, chief executive of Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL), the consortium operating the airport.

“We have handled about 8.6 million passengers in the first year despite a fall in the plane load factor and freight quantity,” Hungerbuehler, who assumed office in February, told IANS.

The new airport was conceived as the 50-year-old HAL airport was bursting at its seams, handling 320 flights a day and 35,000-40,000 passengers daily or about 10 million passengers annually.

Though the $625-million (Rs.29,687-crore) greenfield airport took a decade to materialise, the first phase was completed in a record 36 months after construction began in mid-2005.

However, the airport is yet to be officially inaugurated. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to unveil the airport in March last year, the Karnataka assembly elections two months later May posed an obstacle, as the model code of conduct came into force.

Efforts by Chief Minister B.S. Yeddurappa to invite Manmohan Singh also failed, as the prime minister got busy with a myriad issues including the India-US nuclear accord and the trust vote since June-July last year.

Additionally, lack of consensus over a name for the new airport also delayed its christening.

The airport has a capacity to handle 10-12 million passengers annually till 2010-12 but, as Hungerbuehler said, only 8.6 million passengers passed through it in 2008-09, thanks to the slowdown.

Subsequently, the annual growth rate of passengers and cargo from and to Bangalore has also dipped to about 20-25 percent from a scorching 40 percent notched over the past few years.

However, Hungerbuehler isn’t ruffled. “The downturn has given us a breather as it gives us time to plan and augment resources for the next phase of expansion,” he said.

“The expansion will include extending the apron to park 68 aircraft at a time from 42 now. Seven new international airlines have commenced operations.”

About 30 airlines, including 20 international carriers, operate passenger and cargo services.

Spread across 4,000 acres, the domestic terminal boasts of 53 check-in and 18 self check-in counters, three rapid exits and a taxiway system, 42 aircraft stands, eight passenger boarding bridges and two warehouses.

Built on the public-private partnership model, the airport’s consortium consists of Unique Zurich Airport, Siemens Projects Ventures and Larsen and Toubro (L&T) with a combined equity stake of 74 percent.

State government agencies and the country’s apex national airports operator, Airports Authority of India (AAI), hold the remaining 26 percent.

(Maitreyee Boruah can be contacted at

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