Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Distance’ shadow looms large on Bangalore airport

Distance’ shadow looms large on Bangalore airport
Reema Jose
Posted online: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 2202 hrs

Bangalore, May 27A 71,000 sq ft terminal building, 53 check-in-counters and 18 kiosks, a capacity to handle 341 flights a day and 12 million passengers annually… passengers used to the cramped HAL airport in Bangalore could not have asked for more. But the new Bengaluru International Airport, situated in Devanahalli, 40 km away from the main city and a good 70 km from the industry backyard Electronic City, is anything but a passengers’ delight.

The two-hour journey on the Volvo bus, even at 8.30 am when road traffic is still not chaotic, is tiresome. The state-run buses are a must, owing to the distance. A few passengers, first time travellers to the Bengaluru International Airport, looked apprehensive. A Mumbai-based businessman Pravin Kumar wondered whether the bus would reach in time for his flight at 11.15am. “This new airport is slightly too far,” murmured Kumar, a thought vehemently expressed by many citizen activists and non-government organisations in the past few months in Bangalore. The airport had waded through many controversies-including PILs seeking retention of old airport, seeking its renaming to “Kempegowda” and higher job allocation for locals-before it was commissioned on May 24 post-mid night.

“The airport looks neat,” said a co-passenger, alighting the bus at one of the 10 bays at the airport, allotted for the state’s Bangalore International Airport Service (BIAS) buses. In addition to the bus bays, the airport’s car parking facilities would accommodate 2,700 cars.

No auto rickshaws are allowed within 5 km of the aerodrome, lessening the traffic and voice commotion to an extent. But it adds to the transportation woes. The Volvos are the only affordable mode of transport from and to the airport. While the Volvo charged between Rs 80 and Rs 200 to the airport, the taxis charged at a rate of Rs 15 per km and a waiting charge of Rs 60 per hour.

At the airport terminal, a Go-Air executive mentioned that the technical issues on the first day had caused much difficulty to the passengers and the airline staff. “The airport is settling down. Some issues, like ground handling, are yet to be sorted out. In terms of capacity and infrastructure, this is better than Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL),” he said.

Another passenger Thrupthi Nair, who had flown from Chennai to Devanahalli, said the idea of retaining short-hauls at HAL was tempting. “The next time I go to Chennai, I will board a train,” she said, adding, “It makes no sense to travel for nearly two hours to catch a 30-minute flight.

Prominent corporate crowd in the city, representing companies including Biocon, Infosys and Wipro jointly flay the distantly placed airport. An airport based 40 km away from the city in Devanahalli, will not work in favour of Bangalore, they said. “Our clients are already demanding that we keep meetings in other cities like Chennai,” according to Sudip Banerjee, president- enterprise solutions at Wipro. For those living in the centre of Bangalore, close to Vidhan Soudha and the commercial centre around MG Road, the travel to the new airport takes at least an hour or more.

A BIAL spokeperson said operations would become smoother with time. “The transition to the new airport was decent for one of such large scale. We are sorting out pending issues,” the spokesperson told FE. The HAL airport, which suspended commercial flying the day the Devanahalli airport started operations, has served Bangalore since 1980 and outgrew its capacity of 3.5 million to touch 10 million passengers annually.


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