Thursday, July 24, 2008

AAI team wants Bangalore’s old airport reopened, ministry wary

Bangalore/New Delhi: The controversy surrounding the closure of Bangalore’s old airport after the new one run by Bangalore International Airport Ltd, or Bial, opened in May, has taken another turn with a June study by airport regulator Airports Authority of India, or AAI, saying that the new airport has been built to handle 9.78 million passengers, at least 10% less than the capacity of the old HAL airport.

The AAI study also recommends that the old airport, run by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, or HAL, reopen until such time additional capacity is added at the new airport on Bangalore’s outskirts. The closure of the old airport is being challenged in court by a citizens’ group.
The study hasn’t been released to the public and the details in it have not been corroborated by Bial, the new airport’s developer. The HAL airport was closed after the new one opened in keeping with a 2004 agreement between the Union government and the developer of the new airport.
The old city airport has been shuttered since the night of 23 May, hours before the new airport, backed by private investors, became operational. Citizens groups and top companies in Bangalore have since lobbied for reopening the old airport complaining commute to the new airport takes up to two hours from the city and the Union government is encouraging a private monopoly by letting it be the only one open in the city.
An AAI team, which undertook the study between 16 June and 18 June, says in its report that the airport has lesser capacity than the 11.4 million passengers claimed by Bial. A spokeswoman for Bial said the firm did not want to comment immediately on the subject.
Last week, an AAI official had confirmed the existence of this report to Mint but declined to discuss its contents. The official could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
“In view of the saturation of passenger terminal, import cargo, apron and runway, it is recommended that, in meantime, the existing HAL airport may be permitted to operate until the time of commissioning of proposed additional capacity at the new Bangalore international airport,” the AAI study, which has been reviewed by Mint, recommended. The study was undertaken by a team led by AAI’s member, planning, V.P. Agrawal.
Last Thursday, on the eve of a Karnataka high court hearing on a petition to reopen the city airport, the AAI official said that the regulator would ask the court for two weeks to submit a study on capacity at the new Bangalore airport.The official, who did not want to be identified, said AAI had asked Bial, the operator of the new airport, to “give us the actual details like floor area of the terminal building, etc.” to complete the study.
That court hearing was adjourned to 22 August.
On Tuesday, a senior official at the Union ministry of civil aviation said the AAI committee had over-extended its mandate in its study. “They were asked to assess the demand and supply situation at the Bial airport and how to address it. They were not asked to make any recommendations (however),” this official said, asking be not be identified. “They have to involve Bial authorities for statistics.” In May, the Karnataka high court had directed AAI and the Union government to assess the capacity of the new airport.


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