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Take-off troubles

March 19, 2008

The new Bangalore Iternational airport will not take off on March 30, as scheduled. The official reason cited is that the air traffic control facility is not fully in place. Even as the new airport authorities are preparing for a May 11 launch, the demand for keeping the existing airport, owned and managed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), has heightened.

The latest bout of chorus in favour of retaining the 67-year-old airport is chiefly due to the long and uncomfortable drive to the new airport at Devanahalli, 35 km from the city, and the prohibitive user development fee (UDF) the passengers are required to pay. While Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) and Karnataka government are firm that HAL will cease to function from March 30, industrialists, private airlines and the defence PSU have stepped up their campaign to keep the HAL airport running. “It’s a great facility we cannot ignore,’’ says G. R. Gopinath, founder of Deccan Aviation, about the HAL airport.

“We should keep the existing airport and use it for short-haul flights,’’ he says, and adds that (BIAL’s) user development fee Rs 1,000 on a fare of Rs 1,800 to Hubli will discourage passengers from flying.

The defence PSU will lose Rs 250 crore a year on permanent closure of its airport, and hence its lastditch efforts to save it. HAL DGM (Aerodrome Operations) S.R.Iyer suggests a minimal utilisation of the PSU’s airport in such a way that the commercial interests of BIAL are not hurt. According to him, the Devanahalli airport will soon reach its optimal capacity considering the way air traffic is growing in India.

“All airlines are in the red today. Monopoly will increase the sufferings of airlines,’’ Iyer warns. Albert Brunner, CEO of BIAL, which has invested Rs 2,470 crore into the project besides getting its concessionaires to invest Rs 1,000 crore, would not buy any of these. “A contract is a contract. You cannot first sign it and then go on debating about it,’’ he says. “Credibility of India will be at stake,’’ says the Swiss national who supervised the expansion of Zurich airport. Perhaps, the government could keep the old airport open till the roads to the new airport get done, and get HAL to share a part of its revenues with BIAL to make up for any loss.

K. R. Balasubramanyam


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