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Indian airports all set for uplift

With the strike having been called off, the face of India?s airports is likely to change, writes Nandini R Iyer.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 01:32 IST

Next up: Kolkata and Chennai

India’s airports are in a miserable state of disrepair and no amount of furious agitation will help shadow this one fact. With new airlines jet-setting into the Indian skies at the drop of entrepreneurial hats, an inadequate airport infrastructure threatens to fracture their lofty dreams.

Take the case of the Delhi airport where approximately 230 domestic aircrafts land and take-off everyday. This means that about 4.8 million passengers are ferried by the private airlines alone every year, while the terminal can handle only a meagre 1.35 million. Having recognised this problem, the government decided to restructure the airports with the help of private Joint Venture (JV) partners. The new airports are envisaged to be state-of-the-art, world-class buildings attracting an investment upwards of Rs. 8,000 crore for Delhi and 5,000 crore in the case of Mumbai.

Parallel runways are set to bring the number of aircrafts handled per hour at par with international standards. A new terminal with more overnight aircraft parking stands, better hangars, maintenance facilities and cargo handling will be created. With amenities like numerous check-in counters, passenger friendly arrival and departure areas, transit lounges for those waiting to change flights, duty free shops, restaurants and hotels, Delhiites and Mumbaikars have enough reasons to smile. But the 64 million dollar question that some are left asking is that in the event these dreams are realised, what about Kolkata, Chennai and the 80-odd other airports in India?

In the past, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has made an oblique reference to the possibility of Kolkata and Chennai airports also being modernised through the JV route. But given how politically sensitive the situation has proven to be, Civil Aviation Ministry officials are absolutely unwilling to state what the government really intends to do.

A senior civil aviation official said, “The strike by the unions has had no impact as such. The airports were dirty but it is not as though functioning in every airport in India came to a grinding halt. Flights were taking off and landing normally for the most part. The government should have no difficulty modernising Chennai and Kolkata the same way.” But given how much trouble the unions, supported by Left parties (and they can hardly be ignored) have given the government, further airport modernisation would undeniably be another test for the Centre's balancing act. As it tries to please its political allies on the one hand and initiate economic reforms on the other, flyers perhaps pray that they would not be the ones who are made to suffer. But while the Leftist debate continues to rage, the government does seem to have some very real plans for developing 35 non-metro airports to bring them up to international standards, even if they can’t be branded “world class” in the immediate future. And these incidentally, will be going the JV route.

In passenger lingo, the government plans that all these 35 airports will get modular designs for infra-structure: structured steel and glass buildings; state-of-the-art air-conditioning systems; aero-bridges like those at Heathrow or Singapore airport (with glass walls and walkways), escalators and sign-boards that do away with the need to approach a help desk.

The more technical features, which will be used to make passenger transit easier at 10 non-metro airports, would include an integrated building management system, intelligent terminals and computerised passenger traffic management. All these airports will be equipped with Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE), a common-computer programme sharing software that would enable any airline to use any computer terminal at any counter to check in a passenger, instead of their own designated counter. There will also be in-line baggage screening for passenger check in. India is also planning two systems, one which screens all passenger bags on a conveyor belt, which means that you can check in even as you enter the airport and a second, which would ensure that you along with your hand baggage can be screened even as you wait in queue to get your boarding card.

The 10 non-metro airports that have been identified for development under Phase I are Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Guwahati, Jaipur, Udaipur, Trivandrum, Lucknow, Goa, Madurai and Mangalore. This is how the deal worked — the government appointed technical and financial consultants to carry out a detailed techno-economic feasibility study and submit reports with multiple options which the AAI could then choose from to develop the airports. Ministry sources said the technical consultants had indicated that it would cost around Rs 1110 crore for modernising these ten airports, with Phase I work beginning in 2006 and being completed by 2008. Phase I work means a modernised terminal building with the associated infrastructure, car park and air side building.

“We require permission from the Public Investment Board for the proposals for Ahmedabad and Trivandrum airports as the cost exceeds Rs 150 crore and action has been initiated. Other documentary processes have been begun for the new terminal buildings for Jaipur and Udaipur,” a senior Civil Aviation Ministry official said. Meanwhile, for the new terminal buildings to be created in Lucknow, Mangalore and Madurai, the government has already completed the process of evaluating ‘Expressions of Interest’ for architectural design. Short listed bidders were asked to submit their models and scale drawings by end January 2006. Sources said all short listed bidders had submitted these on time for selection by an assessment committee.

On the financial side, the government has decided that the Airport Authority of India has only limited claims to expertise on developing diverse land use facilities and has therefore decided against Public Private Participation. To limit the capital investment that AAI has to make, the Civil Aviation Ministry is looking at a land lease and revenue sharing arrangement, broadly in the same manner as was done for Delhi and Mumbai. In the joint venture airports that emerge, the AAI is to retain 26 per cent equity in the form of its assets the rest coming from the other partner(s).

“The arrangement we plan is that Air Traffic Management and operational areas like runways, taxiways, apron, navigation and communication will be retained by AAI. All the expenses for these areas and the revenue that they generate stays with us. The non-operational areas like terminal building, car parking, and areas outside the operational boundaries can be developed under the JV,” an official explained.

Phase II is all about developing 15 non-metro airports at Agatti, Aurangabad, Khajuraho, Rajkot, Vadodara, Bhopal, Indore, Nagpur, Vishakhapatnam, Trichi, Bhubhaneshwar, Coimbatore, Patna, Portblair and Varanasi. Phase III will see the development of 10 more airports at Agartala, Dehradun, Imphal, Ranchi, Raipur, Chandigarh, Pune, Dimapur, Agra and Jammu. These will take the same route as Phase I. The government plans to award these contracts to those who deliver the best results for airports covered in Phases I and II.

(With inputs from HT Corporate Bureau)

First Published: Feb 05, 2006 00:47 IST