New Hyderabad airport opens, but with initial glitches

March 23rd, 2008 - 5:48 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

Hyderabad, March 23 (IANS) The new Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad near here began its commercial operations early Sunday when a Lufthansa flight arrived. But initial hiccups marred the opening day as a KLM flight from Amsterdam failed to land due to “confusion”. Its pilot diverted the flight to New Delhi, was denied permission, and finally landed in Mumbai. It was scheduled to land at Shamshabad at 1.45 a.m.

However, the first flight from Frankfurt and four more flights from other destinations had a smooth landing at the new airport, about 30 km from the city centre.

GMR Hyderabad International Airport (GHIAL), the developers of the new airport, said the KLM flight faced problems due to the confusion over change of aviation code, after the operations were shifted out from Begumpet airport in the heart of the city.

“The pilot of the KLM aircraft might have had some doubt in his mind and in the utmost interest of passengers he decided not to land and diverted the aircraft,” said A. Vishwanath, vice president, corporate planning, GMR.

Subsequently, the Hyderabad-Amsterdam flight was also cancelled and the passengers were accommodated in a hotel in the airport premises.

“Initial hiccups will be there. We are trying to achieve operational excellence,” said GMR chairman G.M. Rao while welcoming the passengers and crew of the first flight after the new facility became operational at midnight.

The Lufthansa aircraft, carrying 276 passengers and crew aboard from Frankfurt, Germany, landed at 12.25 a.m., marking the commencement of the much-awaited commercial operations at the new airport.

All passengers and crew members were given a rousing reception on their arrival at the new airport, which was inaugurated by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi March 14.

This is the first greenfield airport built in public-private partnership and incorporates the best of facilities in Oslo, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore airports.

With this, the 76-year-old Begumpet airport located in the centre of Hyderabad was officially shut down.

The Rs.25 billion airport with the longest runway in Southeast Asia has been built by GHIAL, a joint venture in which GMR Infrastructure Ltd holds 63 percent, Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad 11 percent, AAI 13 percent and the Andhra Pradesh government 13 percent.

Despite the distance from the city and poor connectivity, the world-class facilities provided at the new airport impressed the passengers. “This is a wonderful place. It looks as if I am standing at Dubai or London airport,” said Umamaheswar Rao, a passenger.

The new airport was to commence operations March 16 but a row over ground handling charges, user development fee and the closure of the existing facility led to the delay.

The low-cost airlines were unhappy over the hefty ground handling charges levied at the new airport. Employees of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) also were unhappy with the closing of a profit-making state-owned civil aviation operations facility at the old airport, and held protest demonstrations and even stryuck work.

Designed to handle 12 million passengers in the first phase, the new airport’s ultimate capacity is set to be 40 million passengers per annum and one million tonnes of cargo.

Built by the China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong), it is the first airport in India to have no demarcation between international and domestic terminals, making passenger movement easier.

It also has a unique airport village with commercial space where passengers can meet with their friends and relatives.

The airport has a 70-metre-high Air Traffic Control (ATC), equipped with the state-of-the-art equipment, a world-class cargo terminal, 42 aircraft parking stands with 12 aero-bridges and 30 remote parking bays.

It incorporates the novel ‘aerotropolis’ concept on the lines of Seoul, Munich and Hong Kong international airports that houses hotels, commercial centres, hospitals and residential quarters.

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