Now kids play cricket at Hyderabad’s old airport

March 28th, 2008 - 10:20 am ICT by admin  

(Feature)
By Mohammed Shafeeq
Hyderabad, March 28 (IANS) It was witness to the evolution of this city from the capital of a princely state to a part of independent India and its metamorphosis to a booming IT hub. Now, the 76-year-old Begumpet airport has fallen silent with a new airport coming up. The Begumpet area, located in the heart of the city, used to reverberate with the sound of 250 aircraft every day. Today, its paint-peeling terminal building that used to be abuzz with activity is deserted.

A few youngsters were seen playing cricket in the portico of the terminal building that till recently would be flocked by hundreds of passengers round the clock.

Curtains were drawn on the Begumpet airport with the shifting of operations to Shamshabad, 30 km from the city. When a Thai Airlines flight took off for Bangkok in the early hours of Sunday from Begumpet, a glorious chapter of civil aviation in this historic city came to an end.

The aerobridges were rolled back, Air Traffic Controllers switched off their equipment and the runway lights were put off to mark the closure of the airport - one of the first airports for civil aviation.

The airport, however, will continue to handle other operations like defence operations, emergency services, movement of VIPs and private aircraft.

It was also one of the few airports in the world to be located in the heart of the city and was very convenient to reach for most air travellers. People would start around half an hour before the reporting time. But to reach Shamshabad, passengers will have to start at least two hours before the reporting time.

The initiative for the airport began in 1932 when the Hyderabad State Aero Club was set up for flight training. It was mainly a private initiative by Babar Mirza and P.M. Reddy, two young pilots from the city. The seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the ruler of then Hyderabad state, agreed to extend state support for aviation activities and allotted land at Begumpet.

In 1937, Princess Durr-e-Shehwar, the Nizam’s daughter-in-law, laid the foundation for the Begumpet terminal building. The Tatas, who operated a flight from Karachi touching Bombay, Bellary, Madras and Colombo, were convinced to include Hyderabad in the schedule.

The Nizam selected Begumpet as it was away from the heart of the city. However, the areas surrounding it continued to grow. The airport had about 800 acres of land but 100 acres were encroached, making its expansion difficult.

Due to its proximity to residential areas, there would always be a crowd of curious onlookers from surrounding areas standing near the boundary wall to have a closer look at the big birds.

The airport grew in size with every passing year. At the time of closure, Begumpet Airport was the sixth largest in the country with a growth rate higher than the airports in metro cities. The international passengers increased from 779,988 to 949,539 last year. The domestic passengers went up from 2.8 million to 3.6 million.

Begumpet operated over 250 scheduled flights a day of 10 domestic and 13 international operators. The airport had a workforce of over 500 regular and 5,000 contract employees.

Two US presidents - Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates are among the international luminaries who landed here during their visits to Hyderabad.

The airport also had a good safety record. It witnessed only three accidents.

The closure of the airport hit the business in the prime area. Porters, taxi and auto drivers are the worst-hit. Mohammed Mujeeb, a taxi driver, has been rendered jobless. “I have an old Ambassador car and it is difficult to cover a long distance to ferry passengers from Shamshabad with it,” he said. Those who can afford have bought new vehicles and shifted their operations to the new airport.

While old-timers and a section of air passengers are sad over its closure, the residents nearby have got relief from the sound pollution. A group of citizens had campaigned for closure of the airport on the ground that the high noise level was affecting their health.

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