Big birds stare at elbow-room problem on Bangalore tarmac


Bangalore, June 14: The glitzy airport in India’s software capital that was to have been the takeoff point for the aviation growth story remains grounded in the present.

From “teething problems” like the long journey to the airport in Devanahalli, 50km from the city, the scanner has now shifted to its planning, which, airline sources said, has not been made with the future in mind.

International airlines have slammed the airport for the “flawed” design of the aerobridges — a sanitised corridor connecting the plane doors with the terminal building.

The new airport has eight aerobridges to handle 11.4 million passengers annually. In comparison, the new Hyderabad airport has 12 aerobridges for 12 million passengers. The new Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International Airport has 66 aerobridges for handling 43 million passengers annually.

Only four of the eight aerobridges in Bangalore can service wide-bodied aircraft at a time, leaving the other four idle. If one wide-bodied aircraft is being serviced, the two aerobridges flanking it have to be left unused as the aircraft’s large wingspan prevents other planes from being parked close to it on either side.

Wide-bodied aircraft, such as the Airbus A330, A340 or the Boeing 747 or 777, have a wingspan of 60-75 metres compared with 28-34 metres for narrow-bodied planes like the A320 or Boeing 737. With an aerobridge every 45-50 metres, wide bodies occupy a major portion of the apron — the area where the planes are parked, loaded or unloaded, refuelled or boarded.

The airport has been built by a consortium led by Zurich Airports on a build-operate-and-transfer basis.

The consortium of Zurich Airports, Siemens and L&T hold 74 per cent stake, while the Karnataka government and Airports Authority of India hold 13 per cent each.

Albert Brunner, the chief executive officer of Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL), said it was not a design flaw but a plan to “optimise” the use of infrastructure.

“When a wide-bodied aircraft is parked, it takes the space of two narrow-bodied aircraft and, therefore, the aerobridge next to the parked wide-body aircraft cannot be used during this time. Kindly note that this does not mean that the aerobridges are not designed properly. It is an optimal and flexible use of the infrastructure. When only narrow- body aircraft are parked, all bridges are in use,” Brunner said in an email reply to a questionnaire from The Telegraph.

But airlines are not amused. A European airline, which operates only Airbus A-340s to Bangalore, was upset with the planning. “We understand that only four wide-bodied aircraft can be parked at a time. How can one call this an international airport? If you see the hubs around the world, they can accommodate up to 15-20 wide-bodied aircraft at any given time. It’s just that there should have been more space between the bridges to make optimal use of infrastructure,” said the airline’s area manager, who did not wish to be named.

With aviation registering phenomenal growth and seat demand surging, airlines across the world are opting for more wide-bodied aircraft. But the Bangalore airport, which cost over Rs 2,500 crore and took four years to build, is not designed to meet the demands of this growth.

Urban planner and architect K. Jaisim agreed that the new airport does not seem to have been planned for the future. “I really cannot say if the aerobridges have been planned that way by BIAL or there is a design flaw. I can only say that they should have designed them better to accommodate all types of planes as air traffic is only going to go up.”

Jaisim said he was surprised that this new-age international airport was designed like a huge railway station when the world over architects were moving away from the tradition of building the air side in a long and straight line.

The flat factory-like structure and the intricate alleys that arriving passengers are made to go through have led Jaisim to wonder whether its architects had been given a free hand to build what they had designed. “Or have they just shifted a rejected first world airport to the third world?” he said.

The airport has been equipped with eight aerobridges, one double-arm Y-shaped aerobridge that can reach out to two doors of an aircraft and nine remote bus gates.

But as international travellers are sanitised (security, immigration and customs checks are mandatory), security agencies prefer only aerobridge transfers for both arriving and departing passengers.

At present, Bangalore is connected by 14 international carriers and seven of them use wide-bodied aircraft. In the not-too-distant future, Air India, Kingfisher and Jet Airways plan daily non-stop flights to the US even as more European, US and Chinese carriers eye the new airport.

“In a way the aerobridge design is restricting us as every international flight has a turnaround time of anywhere between two to three hours. On an average, only 30 wide-bodied aircraft can be serviced through the day. But as most international flights depart in the wee hours, a limited number of aircraft can be serviced and at the same time it will block access for narrow-bodied aircraft operated by other international airlines,” said an airport source.

But CEO Brunner said that if all aircraft at a time are narrow bodied — like the A320 or Boeing 737 or even an Embraer 70-seater — all eight aerobridges can be used simultaneously.

The availability, or lack of it, of aerobridges has already put a strain on international operations. “Airlines waiting for the new airport to open and those that had plans to add to capacity from Bangalore are not amused,” said the representative of a southeast Asian airline. The slots they were looking at clashed with those of other airlines who fly wide-bodied aircraft, he explained.

He confirmed that the issue had been taken up with the Airports Authority of India as most international flights are slotted late at night and in the early hours. “I foresee an infrastructure crunch in a few months from now,” the official said.

Another irritant for the airlines is that though the airport has been cleared for the jumbo Airbus A380 to operate from its 60-metre-wide runway, the world’s largest commercial jet cannot be serviced from two levels as the airport lacks a double-deck aerobridge. Boeing’s Dreamliner will also have similar problems as the airport, unlike the one in Hyderabad, has not planned for these mega-seaters.

So, what’s the solution? Jaisim said an ideal design would be with curvatures or convex-type of structures which give operators more flexibility to think two decades ahead. “When I look at this airport, it lacks warmth and comfort. This is not a passenger-friendly airport. It does not leave a good first impression,” he said.

The second phase of the airport includes a mirror image of the existing terminal building, apron, taxiway and a second runway. “I hope they design it to cater to double-deck planes and plan a fast exit for passengers using aerobridges instead of the present cumbersome three-level exit,” Jaisim said.

Source : The Telegraph

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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