Delaying the launch of BIAL – The correct choice

While I was very much looking forward to the launch of the new Bengaluru International Airport (BIA), I think the Ministry of Civil Aviation took a very pragmatic and realistic step by delaying the launch.

I can understand the frustrations of the BIAL consortium, but let us face facts. The CNS-ATM system would not be erected and properly commissioned in time. In total, 59 deficiencies were observed.

The ATM (Air Traffic Management) system is the nerve centre of aeronautical operations at any airport. It has to function without any hitch, glitch, or failure. Part of this system includes air traffic controllers (ATCs), which is why all aviation and safety agencies from ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) to our DGCA, “recommend” (read demand) a 1000 hour (about 42 days) “hot standby” period after the system is installed and the first calibrations conducted. During this “hot standby” period, the system is repeatedly tested and a special aircraft loaded with instrumentation is used.

Despite the constraints at Bangalore HAL airport, it has grown from India’s 5th largest airport in 2001, to the 3rd largest airport (yes, we passed Chennai late last year). Thanks to the economic boom, we have tremendous growth in Bangalore’s aviation traffic, and the new airport has control on just about 40% of the total airspace of Bangalore. Managing air traffic in this restricted space, is a fine art, that needs experience as well as skill. Expecting brand new ATCs to just walk in and start directing traffic is playing Russian Roulette with the lives of not just those in the air, but also those on the ground.

Most Bangaloreans are unaware, the show case trial flights at BIAL, so prominently featured in the news just a week ago, were in fact, guided in to BIAL, by HAL airport’s ATC.

For the airport to launch on March 30th, as originally planned, the BIAL consortium should have delivered the required building infrastructure and air-conditioning plant on time. Today’s Deccan Herald has an interesting story with a detailed time line.

I quote from the story “The AAI has informed (the ministry) that… it was the responsibility of the BIAL to design and construct by no later than 180 days prior to the initial commissioning date (ICD-March 30) the ATC facility including control tower, technical block and office accommodation for AAI personnel. Air conditioning at ATC was to be provided 90 days prior to ICD. The BIAL should have handed over the facility by September 30, 2007 and provided AC by December 31. However, the crucial building — technical block — was handed over to the AAI only on February 3, 2008, radar building on December 12, 2007 and AC works completed on March 1.”

Just as a reminder, the AAI is a 13% shareholder in BIAL. Somehow, BIAL, very conveniently chooses to portray its own stake-holder as an external party and tries to transfer the blame, and we equally conveniently choose to accept this masterful stroke of PR!!!!

These extra 42 days provided by the delay, should be used by all the stakeholders productively

  • BIAL to complete all its pending works, including the cargo village, police station, etc.
  • Government of Karnataka, PWD, BDA, and BBMP to complete the connectivity.
  • Government of India should sit BIAL and HAL down together and work out an mutually beneficial arrangement where citizens of Bangalore gain by having the infrastructure of two airports.
  • We Bangaloreans, should drive to BIAL, not on a leisurely Sunday, but a busy weekday, and scope out all the roads and time taken to reach the new airport.

Let us stop wasting time with political conspiracy theories however salacious they appear.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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