Thanks to the repeated delays at the BIAL promoted Bengaluru International Airport (BIA), a crisis is brewing at HAL airport in Bangalore; a crisis which can turn ugly at any moment.
Expecting the new airport to open on March 30th, most operators at HAL airport lost staff to the new operators at BIA. Ground and ramp handling (ladders/aero-bridges, baggage loading, drivers, tractors, etc.) and terminal handling (maintenance and upkeep) are the most affected. The few remaining staff, supplemented by some temporary staff, are unable to cope with demands.
Many airlines’ operations executives have told me that it is just a matter of time before “minor incidents” now occurring on a daily basis, will explode in to a “major accident”.
Even the highly efficient Air Traffic Control at HAL is suffering the recent retirement of Mr. S.R. Iyer, one of, if not, the senior-most air traffic controllers in India. The existing ATC team is very capable, but the loss of Mr. Iyer, has affected flight operations efficiency, resulting in major delays during peak hours.
The immediate question is why not hire more people. The simple answer is uncertainty. The handling agents at HAL are not the same as at BIA. No person wants to work at an airport that is going to close.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation is “re-negotiating” keeping HAL airport open for “sub 80 seater aircraft” (ATRs and Embraer) for short haul flights. This proposal is commercially and operationally unviable for both the airlines and HAL/AAI, and is bound to be rejected by them, even if BIAL agrees.
The shareholders of BIAL, which include the Governments of India and Karnataka, have the ability to advance the opening date of the BIA, but for that, they need to place the needs of Bangalore, above the needs of the political establishment, and that is a tough call.