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City’s jet-age started here

Old timers recall how, about two decades ago, Terminal 1B was all the Delhi airport had.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2009 23:35 IST
Sidhartha Roy

Old timers recall how, about two decades ago, Terminal 1B was all the Delhi airport had.

“When I first came here in 1986, Terminal 1B was a much smaller building from where all flights — international and
domestic — used to operate,” said an Air India official, who did not wish to be named.

The Palam airport started out as an Air Force base with open fields during the Second World War. Over the years, it got grassy fields and then concrete runways but became Delhi’s civil airport only in 1969.

“Till the ’60s, Safdarjung Airport (then called Willingdon Airport) was the capital’s civil airport. It was a smaller airport where only older aircraft like Dakota could land,” said the airport official. “When it was anticipated that bigger jet planes would land in Delhi, a bigger airport was required and Palam became a civil airport,” he said.

Just the first phase of IGI Airport’s modernisation plan would cost Rs 8,975 crore but when renovation of Terminal 1B was first planned to meet passenger needs, the project cost was expected to be just Rs 9 lakh.

“Terminal 1B has been renovated and expanded over the years but when it was first opened, only the area that is occupied by Jet Airways now was present,” he said. Indian Airlines was the only domestic airline that operated from the building.

“There was almost no security to talk of even in the ’80s and you could walk directly up to the aircraft. Friends and family of fliers used to come at the airside to see them off,” he said.

“Since the terminal was so small, passengers would have to wait in long queues outside when flights got delayed due to fog. To de-congest the terminal, all Airbus planes were shifted to the new Terminal 1A, which was built for delegates coming for the Asiad (it had been lying vacant). All Boeings continued to operate from Terminal 1B,” said the Air India official.

“The airline staff started an agitation because Terminal 1A was at a distance and they didn’t want to walk so much from Terminal 1B everyday. They were finally provided coach services,” he said.

It is only in the ’90s that some private airlines started operations and Terminal 1B once again became crammed.