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Are you ready to walk on air?

Post-modernisation works, the Delhi int'l airport is slated to be on par with the world's best, writes Sidhartha Roy.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2007 17:09 IST

If an airport is the showcase of a city, the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) certainly does not leave a good first impression on a visitor.

The terminals, especially the domestic ones, are congested and chaotic because of the ever-increasing air traffic. Jostling crowds at the terminals, long, tiring queues and flight delays are common. Even its dull interiors do little to lift the mood.

Not surprising, given that more than 600 flights operate from IGIA every day, making it the busiest airport in the country after Mumbai. And the traffic is only going to increase in the coming years - from over 16 million passengers a year at present to 37 million by 2010.

Get the looks

But don’t dump your travel plans yet. Not if you believe the Delhi International Airport (Private) Limited (DIAL), a private consor tium led by the GMR Group, entrusted with the job of modernising the airport. Its aim is to bring the Delhi airport on a par with the best airports in the world, and wheels have already been set in motion.

To begin with, it has tried to give a sleeker look to the drab domestic departure and arrival terminals. The interiors have been changed and so has the furniture. The toilets too sport a shiny, cleaner look. With opening of new food outlets, there is more variety to choose from.

What’s more, DIAL promises to bring international brands to the dutyfree shops soon.

Modern design

The look is fine but what about the congestion and delays? Smoother travel, it seems, is still a few years away.

"The airport is certainly cleaner and comfortable than earlier but the problem of delays persists,” says Bhavuk Khanna, a businessman. "Up to one hour’s delay is common and when fog sets in, it gets horrible." This winter was as cold and chaotic as ever, but DIAL says things will start improving in 2008. "We will build a 4.4 kmlong CAT III-B-compliant (technology to counter fog) runway by March 2008, which will solve the congestion problem," says DIAL spokesman Arun Arora.

That’s not all; DIAL also plans a new integrated terminal by next year to bring some relief to domestic travellers. "The new terminal will include a new departures building and an expanded arrivals building," adds Arora.

This is the small picture. The real changes will be visible only by 2010, the year of the Commonwealth Games. That’s when a new integrated passenger terminal will be built to cater to both domestic and international traffic. As per the master plan prepared by DIAL, this terminal will be capable of handling 37 million passengers in a year.

The big picture

To extend the good impression beyond the airport, connectivity is crucial. So planners envisage a six-lane road connecting the terminal to NH-8 and a high-speed Metro link between the airport and New Delhi.

While unveiling the master plan for the airport, Managing Director of GMR Srinivas Bommidala had said, "We want to build an 'aerotropolis', where development will take place around the airport."

This means changes will not be confined to IGIA, but commercial and business centres and hotels will come up around the airport. You see, we are talking of an entire mini city or, as Bommidala called it, an aerotropolis.