Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Bangalore airport raises another worry: getting there

New Bangalore airport raises another worry: getting there
Anjuli Bhargava / New Delhi December 27, 2007
A 2- to 3-hour commute is in store once the HAL facility closes.

Apart from air pollution, poor infrastructure and a wobbly state administration, Bangalore has a new worry from March — how to leave town and get back to it once the new Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) opens its doors and the existing HAL airport on Airport Road shuts its doors.

On a relaxed Sunday with minimum traffic, the drive from the centre of the town (Vidhan Souda) to the new airport (a distance of around 35 km) takes a minimum of 55 minutes.

On a busy office day, it could take two hours.

From Electronics City (home of Infosys and other tech giants) at the other end of the town, it will take over three hours. The drive after the Hebbal flyover is quite clear; it’s getting till there that’s a challenge.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” says GR Gopinath, vice-chairman of Kingfisher Airlines, who feels that the state government should never have agreed to close the old airport until the accessibility of the new facility was improved.

Unlike Hyderabad — where access is a problem that’s being tackled — the lack of governance in Karnataka is ensuring that no steps are being taken in this direction.

The fact is that the airport authorities — again, unlike in Hyderabad — find their hands tied and are unable to offer much solace to passengers, who now await the long-anticipated opening with dread.

As much is evident from the emailed reply BIAL sent to a questionnaire by Business Standard on what is being done to improve access.

“BIAL is responsible for building the new Bangalore Airport at Devanahalli. We have now also taken into our scope the Trumpet Interchange. This interchange will connect NH7 to the airport and will be ready for the airport opening date,” the reply said.

However, in terms of improving access to the airport, the reply said “the implementation of such projects lies with the government of Karnataka and is not in the scope of BIAL”.

The company refers the matter further to the government, which at present is in a state of suspended animation.

This state of affairs is giving industry jitters. Companies like Wipro and Infosys have figured out that it will take their executives close to three hours to reach the airport on a regular working day from their present campuses.

“I’d love to claim that we will use the road as an alternate means of travel but that’s easier said than done,” said an official based at Infosys campus on Hosur Road.

His argument is that most of their executives catch flights primarily to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai (about eight hours by road) or overseas — none of which can be done by road.

Industry leaders in the state like Kiran Shaw Mazumdar and Nandan Nilekani have been using every possible forum to highlight this growing concern, saying that executives can’t stop travelling altogether.

Certainly, short-haul markets will take a beating — airline CEOs are quite prepared for that — but one can hardly make it for a meeting in Delhi or Mumbai by road. Yet travelling three hours to take a 90-minute flight is nobody’s idea of good connectivity.

Roy K Cherian, CEO of Marketelligent, a start-up in the analytics field, which is currently incubating out of IIM, Bangalore, said this issue will dramatically complicate matters for his fledging organisation, which relies on its staff travelling regularly in and out of the city.

IIM, Bangalore, is at least three hours from the new proposed airport. “Any travel in and out will eat up our entire day, if one includes the air travel time, road travel time and the one hour earlier check-in time requirements,” he said.

Civil aviation secretary Ashok Chawla said his ministry is getting more and more representations from all categories of people in the state, saying that the old facility must not completely down its shutters till some of these issues are resolved.

Vijay Mallya, chairman of UB group and promoter of Kingfisher Airlines, is putting his might behind this idea.

But keeping HAL open is not practicable because it will ruin the economics of the new airport. Said Chawla: “I don’t know whether it’s because the deadline for closure is coming closer but people in both the cities — Hyderabad and Bangalore — seem to have woken up to the new reality and are not sure they are happy with it.”


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