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Most unpopular airport: Citizen’s way out

Sunday March 16 2008 00:42 IST
http://www.newindpress.com/sunday/sundayitems.asp?id=SEC20080315151623&eTitle=Columns&rLink=0
TJS GEORGE

A FRIGHTENING fact about the Bangalore International Airport is now out in the open – that it was going to start regular flights without crucial air traffic control arrangements at the ready. ATC experts had told a newspaper that operations before specialist personnel and calibrated equipment were fully trained and tested would be “imprudent and irresponsible”. The airport company seemed to ignore the warning. Eventually the Civil Aviation Ministry had to virtually order a postponement before the “disappointed” company agreed.

What we see here is a problem of Attitude. Here is a company with a leadership that is obsessed with “recovering the heavy investment” in the airport. To achieve that end, it does not mind paying inadequate attention to safety concerns; it does not mind charging the world’s highest User Fee; it does not mind forcing arriving passengers to hire ‘luxury’ taxis that may cost as much as a thousand rupees for a ride to Electronic City; in the process, it does not mind antagonising Karnataka Tourism and Karnataka taxi owners who have been handling airport traffic well enough these many years.

The big long-term issue is the User Fee. Here too Attitude is the problem. Hyderabad heeded the Government of India’s proposal and abolished the User Fee for domestic passengers. Bangalore said its case was different. (Because its Attitude is different). So a passenger from Bangalore to Chennai will have to pay a User Fee of about Rs 1000 (including tax). Compare this with the highest domestic User Fee in Asia – the Sukarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta which charges the equivalent of 443 Indian rupees. Bangalore’s User Fee should, in tribute to its CEO, be called Brunner’s Ransom.

However, the citizen does have some recourse. Travellers who have spare time (example, holiday makers) have started planning their international departures from Chennai and Kochi. This offers a ready-made business opportunity to an enterprising bus operator in Chennai (and Kochi). An airconditioned coach service from Madras Central Station to the Airport timed to suit international departures is something that will do very well now.

Passengers had already begun shunning Bangalore for short-haul flights, forcing several airlines to plan cuts in their short-haul schedules. If Mysore airport is operationalised, these airlines can turn it into a kind of short-haul hub. Road-rail connectivity to Mysore is already excellent. The runway is apparently finished and terminal building work is well under way.

Best of all, though, how about a new, small, private airport for Karnataka? It will only need someone with, say, 300-400 acres of land. A runway that can handle ATRs will be perfect to cover all centres South of the Vindhyas.

If it can take 737s, it will be right for all of India too. Any location between Kengeri and Bangarpet will guarantee success because it will be ideal for day trippers from Electronic City.

Bangalore has outstanding brand ambassadors who can make this dream project a reality – Captain Gopinath, a proven pioneer; Vijay Mallya, the man with the Midas touch; Rajiv Chandrasekhar, known for his commitment to infrastructure.

It’s an idea whose time has come – the Kengeri Domestic Airport.

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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