Saturday, August 23, 2008

A commercially oriented machine, without heart or soul Business sense

A commercially oriented machine, without heart or soul Business sense

‘Small thinking has sunk in in the infrastructure at BIA’

Chairs in the international departure area are uncomfortable

— Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

BAD PLANNING: A view of departure lounge at Bengaluru International Airport.

Reading, day in, day out of the challenges facing Bangalore’s spanking new international airport, one begins to wonder whether proximity to a few hundred information technology companies might not have rubbed off on the airport as well, afflicting it with this high tech disease: instant obsolescence.

In normal circumstances, it would seem to be a fairly bizarre situation, when a new facility like an airport which is presumably planned by experts reaches the limit of its rated capacity on the very day it opens — or so we are told by the many committees that are bending their minds to the question: How do you solve a problem like BIA? Clearly it cannot be solved so smoothly as the problem like Maria, that enthralled us in our younger days in The Sound of Music.

Having passed through the airport a day after it was opened — and about half a dozen times since then, I emboldened to share with readers, my theory of why people continue to grumble and curse when talking about what should be the pride of India’s Silicon City. The issue is not a few overflowing trash cans, or leaky toilets or aerobridges with teething problems. All that can be changed. But attitude cannot.

I am coming round to the belief that the airport was conceived and executed by small minds, who either lacked the vision of what the mature, internationally savvy passengers who patronise the airlines serving Bangalore came to expect — or just decided that the interests of their shareholders would be best served by getting away with the narrowest definition of contractual responsibilities… and cutting every corner in sight.

Here are some examples: The pre-boarding waiting areas is where passengers, especially on international flights, tend to spend most of their time in airports — up to 2 hours is common. So world over, designers provide the most comfortable seating they can. The new Terminal 5 at Heathrow has invested in a number of corners with literally “sink in” sofas in which one can cacoon oneself in comfort. Incheon, Korea; Changi Singapore, the new Hong Kong airport on Lantau island, are all examples of thoughtful seating. But at BIA, they have standardised on a particularly hard and unyielding upright chair that will have you squirming within a few minutes. There are, in my experience, only two international airports worse in this respect — Bangkok’s Suvarnabhoomi, where they have gone all metal, and Frankfurt, that has created a unique torture instrument: a rounded metal bar on which one is expected to balance one’s posterior. Is this a German thing? BIA after all is part owned by Zurich Airport and that reputed name Siemens — both bywords for efficiency and quality. BIA is a poor showcase for your brand, mein damen und herrn.

Elsewhere, small thinking has sunk in — literally — into the infrastructure. You will be hard pressed to find smaller display boards for flight information, anywhere in the world. They have made do, with standard home theatre sized LCD TV screens, which cannot be read (at least by me) without spectacles. And at that size, they are unable to display enough lines and cannot show a departure that is just an hour away. This is a disgrace by any international standards. After a hue and cry about lack of public phones, they have stuck a few portable coin operated phones among the departure gates — the type your corner grocery store keeps on the counter.

This is the IT capital of India: It would have sent a splendid signal to the world, if arriving passengers found a few computer terminals with free Internet to check their mails. You can see them in Hong Kong, and in some 20 locations in Changi, Singapore — with two at every departure gate.

One could go on and on… Bangalore has waited for over a decade for a decent airport that measured up to the splendid image that its IT industry has created for India. What it has got is a cold, commercially oriented machine, without heart or soul. It may work — just — but it will never thrill. We deserved better.



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