On Saturday, 6-Sep-2008, I had the pleasure of visiting the new Bengaluru International Airport as a guest of BIAL Chief Operating Officer Marcel Hungelbuehler and Chief Commercial Officer Manisha Grover. I thank them for the hospitality and the openness.
The BIAL airport is humming like a well timed Swiss watch and almost all the kinks experienced by passengers have been addressed and operational efficiencies attained. Some basic issues are still awaiting action.
But, the leader he is, Marcel, is on a continuous improvement process, aiming for better and better.
Marcel and Manisha gave me full access to the inner workings of the airport. These are the parts of the airport, very few passengers will see, but this is where an airport performs efficiently and earns its money.
We began at the check-in area. At 12 Noon, it was quite empty. The CUSS terminals will be up very soon, and “hand baggage only” passengers of the three major airlines at Bangalore, Jet, Kingfisher, and Indian will be the first beneficiaries. I was also informed that Kingfisher has already commenced a “roving” check-in agent who carries a portable device for checking-in passengers. Smooth.
Departure in-line 5 level security check
We carried on to the departure baggage make-up area. BIAL has a Siemens baggage handling system with in-line 5 level security. 3 levels are in the picture below. Level 4 is a hand-held explosive wipe and detection system, and Level 5 involves having the passenger open the bag physically, and if needed, they have a bomb-proof room besides the terminal. The whole system is handled by a highly secured operations centre staffed by BIAL employees. Very automated, very smooth, very fast and very secure.
Once your bags clear the security, they will be carried across to the baggage make-up area. There are three belts and loaders will either load them in trolleys, or put them in baggage containers. There is a scanning system which scans the baggage tags and catalogs the location and container details in to the master database at BIAL. Try to be on time at the gate. If you do not show up, it is very easy for the airline to trace exactly where your bags are, and off-load them in a jiffy.
The departure baggage make-up area has only one deficiency that I could observe. It is just about able to handle the current 4 wide-body flights simultaneously. This will prove to be a limiting factor till BIAL makes its next terminal.
We next proceeded out on the apron, where we watched VT-VJK, the first Kingfisher Airlines Airbus A330-200 aircraft, roll in from London as flight IT002. We were right at the nose. What a beautiful aircraft. Unfortunately, photography at the apron is prohibited. It would have made a great picture. The picture below was shot later. I really hope that the slots are improved at Heathrow. Right now, Dr. Mallya is forced to park his aircraft at both airports for long periods. Aircraft on the ground only cost, not earn, money.
The Passenger Boarding Bridge (aerobridge) was attached within 30 seconds of engine shut down. Passengers started de-planing within 3 minutes of engine shut down, and even though it was a pretty full flight, the last passengers was off within 9 minutes. Great show all around.
We then proceeded in to the arrival baggage area. Kingfisher has contracted all its ground handling to Globe Ground (connected to Lufthansa), and bags started rolling in within 9 minutes of arrival. The last of the bags were on the belt within 20 minutes. From its initial disasters, the ground handling at BIAL has improved phenomenally.
Partly due to environmental concerns, and partly due to the stuffy nature of baggage areas, BIAL has enforced an all electric vehicle policy in their baggage areas. For the few initial months, BIAL did allow diesel belching tractors, but not any more. It was nice to see that even IndiGo, which does its own ground handling, has bought Maini electric tugs. I am not implying that Mr. Bruce Ashby and his team were not environmentally concious earlier.
Every Saturday, from 1pm to 3pm, BIAL shuts down its runway for weekly maintenance. An army of dedicated staff, led by Chief Infrastructure Officer Thomas Rueppel and Vice President Hari, descend upon the runway (09-27) and start from both ends.
The runway is checked for friction loss (caused by tyre rubber build-up), and rubber is removed as needed. Then the runway is given a high pressure cleaning and checked for any asphalt removal.
Finally, the markings are re-painted as required. Alongside the truck (not in the photo), is an entire team, that runs, at least half the length of the runway, a good 2km.
There are also maintenance crews who water down the barren earthen patches to prevent sand blowing and the grass. Later, BIAL plans to put grass on these barren patches to check erosion.
Along with automated bird-chasers (common at all airports), there is an entire squad of shotgun wielding “bird guys” who chase away the birds. Sorry no tandoori pigeons or kites.
Great team dedication right from the top to the bottom.
I have always maintained that Governments in general, and India, in particular, are weak when it comes to on-going maintenance. The private sector is much more committed. But I was really wowed by the way BIAL is maintaining the runway, and the airport. Clearly, their actions demonstrate a long term commitment to Bangalore.
I cannot agree with recent statements calling BIAL airport, shoddy. Sure, the terminal is not an architectural masterpiece, but to me efficiency and value for money, triumph, pomp and flair. The statement is completely unfair to the whole team at BIAL and belittles their efforts, that I have observed.
The Passenger Terminal Building (PTB)
A view of the PTB and the apron area. The little green building to the right is the Fire Station with state of the art fire and rescue trucks. On the extreme right, way out in the distance are the two Cargo Terminal Buildings of AI-SATS and Menzies-Bobba. The new mirror terminal will be constructed to the left of the existing terminal.
Think of the existing terminal as T1-A, and the mirror will be T1-B. The “Express Terminal” will be constructed just to the right of the existing terminal (when viewed from the air side).
However, hearing BIAL’s description, I am not impressed. From a PR angle, it is the wrong signal to send. I still feel that it will behove BIAL management to enter in to a partnership with AAI and run the terminal at HAL airport. I can envision BIAL efficiency with HAL location. WOW!!!! For sure, Bangalore will be the envy of India.
Globe Ground, one of the ground handling agents at BIAL, has purchased the top of the line Contrac Cobus 3000 capable of carrying 112 passengers at a time. They cost almost Rs. 20 million each. Along side is the Rs. 6 million version from Ashok Leyland. Both are good. Click here for more details on the Cobus. AI-SATS needs to catch-up to Globe Ground.
While driving around, I observed that the apron extension to the west of the PTB, is on hold. I was told “we are waiting for the UDF issue to be resolved”. For brief while, I had the disturbing question floating in my head. Is BIAL out of money ?
I later learnt from some people at the airport (who shall remain anonymous), the apron expansion was given to some fly-by-night contractor and not L&T who constructed the first apron. Cost was the reason, for awarding the contract, and also the contractor fleeing, when he realised the true magnitude of work.
The air-side road leading up to the two cargo terminals is just one lane. I was informed that the road is being widened. Widening this road is critical. It cannot accommodate two pallets simultaneously, so the traffic is uni-directional, and it is impacting the cargo operations. BIAL needs to complete this on a war footing.
We headed back in to the terminal and I visited the fully automated Airport Operations Control Centre (AOCC). Arriving passengers, can see it from the outside. Just head to the extreme right of the building instead of going straight down the middle into the main arrival area.
All the airport apron operations, airlines’ flight dispatchers, ground handlers, are all linked in to each other. Flight schedules are constantly updated. The ATC is tied in to AOCC. When a flight is on final, i.e. 10 minutes out, the system is auto-updated. Gates that were previously assigned, are checked for any conflicts, and the automated systems ensure optimal use of space. Other airports can take a page out of the optimisation manual, from BIAL. It was really very impressive and heartening at the same time. It now makes sense how BIAL can operate so close to full utilisation. However, it does leave thinner margins to accomodate any significant disruption or flight delays.
The new BIG toilets
As you head to the arrivals domestic arrivals hall, on the left is the new BIG spanking new toilets. There are 36 urinals, and I did not count the number of water closets. This is a big relief to domestic passengers. I was informed that the international side is already adequately catered for.
In the arrivals hall there is a new “VIP” lounge being constructed. This is meant for the “lesser” VIPs who are not entitled to the VIP terminal. This could partly explain why we kept hearing from our VIP “leaders” about the “lack of required facilities” at BIAL.
Ongoing issues and future plans
Over a brief lunch, I had a chance to ask about ongoing issues, UDF, Airport City, and the future plans of BIAL and the AAI assessment of the terminal.
BIAL does not agree with the conclusions of the AAI. There are certain assumptions made, that may not apply to BIAL. I feel it is an issue for AAI and BIAL to sort out.The airport hotel construction is proceeding, but I did not see or hear of much progress on anything else. The airlines’ offices building is on track, albietly delayed, but the temporary cargo village meant to house cargo and customs agents, is way behind its promised July delivery. There were some operational and administrative issues which have been sorted out. Unlike the airlines, to whom BIAL has given its own offices, the agents are working in gruelling conditions, having to commute from their city offices near HAL, daily. It was gratifying to hear the issues have been resolved and hopefully the offices will open within the next month.
BIAL is insistent on the UDF as proposed. I raised the issue of their development of non-aero revenues, including the SEZ and Airport City, which would help raise revenues and reduce UDF. BIAL prefers this option also, but the stumbling block is BIAPPA, the Bangalore International Airport Area Planning Authority. There is no master plan in place, and BIAL does not know how to get permission for construction. BIAL claims they cannot construct any non-aero commercial building in absence of bye-laws. The BIAPPA website features a set of bye-laws. The lack of progress can be partly attributed to the lack of a serious push on BIAL’s part. Support to BIAL is available, but they, have to show genuine interest. Industry bodies like BCIC will be glad to help if requested to from BIAL.
There is inadequate parking or facilities for non-passenger users of the airport (cargo, employees, etc.). BIAL does not provide any shuttle bus service, and is depending on individual contractors, and they do not. There was an ignorance of ground realities, in some of the BIAL management, and this is not acceptable. I got the impression that, BIAL feels, it is responsible only for the passenger terminal. The simple fact of the matter is, they are the concessionaires and administrators of the whole 4,000 acres. It is incumbent on BIAL to provide adequate infrastructure and connectivity INSIDE the entire area and it has to ensure the complete comfort of ALL USERS.
The speaker system at the departure hall is still a pain point for BIAL, and the team is working towards a solution. The small font on the flight information displays is something not yet fully appreciated. May be travellers can give feedback to BIAL to appreciate this fact better.
The outside of the terminal is not as well maintained as the inside. The difference in the gleam of the floors is significant. I am sure BIAL will get to it soon.Chairs have been put outside the arrival gate.
The mirror terminal will be constructed to the east of the current terminal, which will double its capacity. The existing parking lot will become a multi-level car park. It is not yet been decided whether to put the train station at ground level or underground.
I proposed to BIAL some ideas received from knowledgeable folks at Praja and Skyscraper City, such as a dedicated dual level operation; arrivals at lower level and arrivals at upper level. BIAL is taking inputs, but is keeping the plans close to its chest right now.
One cannot fault them. Trust will take time, and engagement is the method.
The airport is the first and last impression a traveller has of the city, which makes it vital in any city’s infrastructure. Warmth, comfort, efficiency, cost, connectivity (location), future-proofing, and engagement with local industry, are the key benchmarks.
The entire team at BIAL has been quietly making steady improvements to the airport. They are right up there with the best of the airports in terms of efficiency and engagement. High marks for warmth and comfort. Cost and future-proofing are weak areas that BIAL is addressing. Location and connectivity, while not BIAL’s choice, require addressing; it is vital to their long term success.