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A journey of a thousand miles, said Chinese thinker Confucius, begins with a single step. For Indian aviation, the climb has been mostly uphill, but it has been taking those little steps that matter. By Rupkamal Sarma
The Indian skies, pregnant with enough airlines, are expected to witness even heavier traffic in the coming years. This translates into the need for better infrastructure on ground. The wheels, that started turning some time ago, are today in full motion.
From a service that few could afford, flying has become available to a magnitude of consumers. Rapid evolution of low-cost carriers and public and private airlines has left the tarmac open for competition. All kinds of carriers - from cargo to no-frills and international budget carriers, especially Asian low-cost carriers - are also making a beeline to India. All this translates into increased demands on the airports. By 2020, Indian airports are estimated to handle:
100 million passengers
Including 60 million domestic passengers
Cargo in the range of 3.4 million tons per annum
The government's airport modernisation plan proposes investments of US$ 9 billion by 2010. In January 2006, joint venture companies with 74 per cent private sector participation won contracts to upgrade New Delhi and Mumbai airports. Mass upgradation of airports across the country is going on at all levels. Not only international airports but greenfield airports as well are been developed and unused air strips are been revamped. The government plans to develop around 300 unused airstrips across India - a move that has raised projections for jets required for regional connectivity. Boeing and Airbus, along with Embraer (Brazil), Bombardier (Canada), Sukhoi (Russia), ATR (France) and BAE System (UK) are keen to tap the emerging regional jet market in the country.
While there is no doubt about the excitement happening in air, the ground is where all the action begins. Last year witnessed the restructuring and modernisation of the two international airports in Mumbai and Delhi through the public-private partnership (PPP) mode. Due to its success, the model is being used to develop all international airports in the country.
International airports are a significant part of the infrastructure within a country, not only in terms of passenger movement and goods but also in creating good first impressions for anyone visiting the country.
A common feature across all the international airports is the development and upgradation of new terminals, runways and increased passenger amenities. There is also an increased awareness to create a technology-driven business environment.
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport: The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) is evidently the busiest airport in India. On an average, it handles close to 625-650 Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) in a day since close to 40 per cent of India's air traffic is routed through Mumbai. The airport has eight domestic airlines and 46 international airlines operating out of its terminals. This has put a lot of pressure on the existing facilities.
One of the major changes proposed at CSIA is to have one integrated passenger terminal at Sahar that will have the capacity to handle 40 million passengers annually. Moreover, MIAL has plans to construct a domestic Terminal 1C at Santacruz to connect the existing two terminals - 1A and 1B. This terminal amongst other things will include space for hotel and office development, transfer and immigration facilities for international passengers.
Bangalore International Airport Limited: BIAL has selected the Oberoi Group to operate a first class international hotel under the Trident Hilton brand, besides a host of world-class names like HMS Host and Nuance Group from Zurich, Switzerland to handle travel operations and F&B outlets.
Delhi International Airport Limited: In Delhi, DIAL is responsible for constructing Terminal 3 (T3). A master plan 'Vision 2020' was made for the airport which would cater to both domestic and international traffic. The terminal would be ready before the Commonwealth Games in 2010. With a total investment of Rs 8,900 crore, the first phase will see the airport capacity increase to 37 million passengers. This will be built with an ultimate design capacity of 100 million passengers based on a modular expansion plan that can develop more terminals with increasing traffic.
This future-ready terminal will be spread over a 4,80,000 sq m and will be among the best airports of the world with a CAT III B landing system. It would boast of facilities like 74 aerobridges, 30 remote stands, a total of 200 parking stands for aircraft, 130 check-in counters and 23 self check-in counters, 146 emigration counters, an advanced in-line baggage handling system, rail connectivity for the city centre, automated passenger movers for easy intra-terminal connectivity along with a number of airport hotels, executive lounges, shopping and recreational facilities. New rapid exit taxiways, parallel and link taxiways for faster aircraft clearance, additional aircraft stands with CAT III lighting, modern follow-me vehicles assisting in low visibility conditions are also being devised.
Chennai International Airport: Expansion in Chennai is happening on similar lines. Its Security Hold Area (SHA) is being developed and the ground floor has already been expanded towards the air side to provide more space to passengers. AAI now plans to install escalators to create a new SHA on the first floor, thereby diverting traffic and effectively managing congestion.
AAI added about 1,200 sq m of additional space to the international departure terminal in December last year. New modern trolleys with extra maneuverability were introduced. A new feature at the terminal is the revolving glass door that will have automatic security locks.
Prior to April 2006, jostling one's way through the departure gate was like getting past the pearly gates. It was a single-point departure with an extremely small check-in area. The need for expansion made the planners use the previously under-utilised space, which resulted in the creation of some 1,000 sq m. It has a dedicated traffic lane from the terminal from where five airlines can take off. Feedback forms show that foreign visitors to the airport have expressed satisfaction.
Meanwhile a new block is under construction at two levels, which would add about 10,000 sq mts inclusive of both the levels. The authorities also plan to install an escalator that will help decongest the area during arrival times. An in-line baggage inspection system has been introduced along with a new type of carousal baggage conveyor system instead of the flap-type conveyors.
It is also building a Departure II terminal and one can see the changes, right from the corridor outside the domestic terminal with a glass wall (that will be extended to the entire façade of the airport both in the domestic and international terminals) where the over-walked tiles are replaced by vitrified anti-skid floor tiles. The change is more visible inside the passenger lounge. The same flooring continues inside and is spotted with plants. Sleek LCD screens adorn the walls and pillars; one LCD screen gives discerning passengers a map of the airport.
There is also a decent food court. The black signboards with white letters look aesthetic when compared with the old yellow ones. Check-in areas and visitor's lobbies have also seen expansions but the work is still in progress. Ample seating space and massage chairs (recliners) have made waiting comfortable.
Pay phones have been installed inside the passenger lounge but the latest addition to Departure II is the music kiosks, where songs can be downloaded legally and cheaply for as low as Rs 5 into iPods, Mp3 players, pen drives and CDs. The initial phase of the new airport will be capable of handling 12 mppa and more than 1,00,000 tons of cargo per annum. The ultimate capacity of the airport is over 50 mppa and 1 million ton.
Rajiv Gandhi International Airport: The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad is evidently built to be the most modern airport in India and will start operations from March 2008. Modelled after the Munich airport, it will boast of a plethora of features like the tallest ATC tower in India and accommodation of Code F aircraft like the A380.
A 1,05,300 sq mts terminal, having the capacity to handle 12 million passengers per annum, is being constructed. The terminal building will have 12 contact and 30 remote stands for aircraft parking. Other buildings that will be constructed include the ATC Tower, Technical Building, Cargo (1,00,000 ton capacity), MRO, CFR Station (Crash, Fire and Rescue Station) and utilities having a combined area of 35,000 sq mts.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport: Ashok Chawla, secretary, Union ministry of civil aviation, had recently said, "We are making a sincere attempt to give Kolkata a world-class airport and integrated terminal building." It is learnt that the modernisation programme will be completed in three phases and is estimated to cost Rs 5,000 crore. Rs 1,500 crore has been earmarked for the job in the first phase.
Of this, Rs 1,300 crore will be spent on the terminals, Rs 100 crore on the runway and a cargo complex, and the remaining Rs 100 crore on Communication & Navigation Systems (CNS). Sources confirm that the globally renowned Aeroport de Paris has already prepared the design of the new terminals. As per the proposed schedule, the Kolkata Airport modernisation programme should be completed before the Commonwealth Games.
The Detail Project Report (DPR) plans for two new terminals at the airport, an integrated large one for domestic and international flights, and another relatively small one just for international flights. The proposed buildings will have facilities for ground-floor arrival and first floor departure to ease congestion.
There are plans to install four to five state-of-the-art aerobridges. New parking bays will be built, some attached to the terminal and others in the 'remote' areas. The road network around the terminal buildings will be upgraded. "This will be taken up with the help of the state public works department," said an AAI official.
To cope up with the increasing number of passengers and cars, the DPR proposes a number of underpasses and pedestrian flyovers on the approach roads from VIP Road - the road connecting the airport to the city to the Kolkata airport. There are also plans to set up two new spacious car parks.
The revamped airport would be able to handle 20 million passengers annually compared to five million now. While the first terminal will have the capacity to handle 16 million passengers annually, the second will cater to four million passengers. At present, the domestic terminal handles not more than 4.5 million passengers a year and the international terminal hardly gets one million passengers.
Greater Hyderabad International Airport Limited: Greater Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL) with its user-friendly modular design of the passenger terminal will initially cover 1,00,000 sq mts of floor space that would ensure rapid transit between its domestic and international concourses. The complex will have a dedicated 'Airport Village' with a local flavour. There will also be a business hotel adjacent to the terminal building.
Tech it out
Managing the busiest airport in India, MIAL has embarked upon a drive to create a technology-driven business environment that will significantly enhance the operational efficiency and service standards at CSIA. Says GV Sanjay Reddy, managing director of MIAL and vice chairman of GVK, "We have entered into a five-year agreement with Tata Consultancy Services for IT consultancy services along with implementation and management of the technology backbone at CSIA. The scope of services covers the entire airport value chain from operations to services."
In May 2007, MIAL became the first airport in India to introduce an airport management system by SITA that allowed the airport to improve performance across a wide spectrum of activities - efficient allocation of resources including departure gates, aircraft slots, check-in counters, baggage carousels and creating a state-of-the art flight information display for passengers. It also helps in effective co-ordination and real-time availability of information to airport managers and ground-handlers. As a result, CSIA has moved away from depending on manual systems to IT-driven automation, thus enabling end-to-end management of airport resources in real-time.
Realising the pivotal role of the internet, the airport also became the first in the country in March 2007, to provide information and updates including real time international and domestic flight schedules on its website - www.csia.in.
The consortium has also tied up with Nortel to build one of the most extensive communications infrastructure ever undertaken by an international airport in India, which includes a comprehensive communications upgrade with major data, voice, and video projects over a converged network.
For travellers, the airport now provides internet connectivity thus becoming the first international airport in India to launch free wireless network providing Wi-Fi service throughout the domestic and international terminals. Soon, the airport will also introduce paid service for a bandwidth of 512 kbps and above. Free internet kiosks with a minimum of four computers will also be set up at all terminals.
When Rajiv Gandhi International Airport opens in 2008 in Hyderabad, its single terminal will be equipped with contact boarding bridges, remote stands, Common User Terminal Equipment (CUTE) check-in desks, self check-in kiosks and immigration counters. It would also feature the state-of-the-art IT systems including FIDS, BHS and Airport Operational Database (AODB) technology for the first time in India.
First impression, last impression
Elaborating on the air side efforts, spokesperson for DIAL, Arun Arora says that in an effort to reduce the waiting time for passengers in air and on ground, improving and ensuring faster aircraft movement is important. This means that work on the new runway at T3 is moving at a fast pace. One of the longest runways in Asia, it will be operational by 2008 though the airport will open only by 2010, he cleared. He also added that its ASQ rating as of now is between 3-3.1 but once the airport is completed, it will come at par with other world standard airports to 3.5, which is the maximum any airport has got till now.
Work on the new domestic terminal is underway and will be completed by middle of next year, Arora stated. The new domestic terminal will be able to handle at least 10 million passengers per year and will also get its third run way.
Due to the improving infrastructure in airports, non-aeronautical revenues are also expected to contribute almost 50 per cent of revenues to the airports. Looking beyond the cosmetic changes, the developers are also working on a comprehensive plan to optimise the commercial revenues. Also, with the retail industry booming, various cafés and fast food joints have opened for business at the international and domestic terminals.
In February 2007, MIAL awarded the duty-free retail contract for CSIA to the Aldeasa-ITDC joint venture as a part of an international competitive bid. Reddy says, "Aldeasa-ITDC is currently working on bringing a world-class duty-free experience at CSIA. Located in the international terminal 2C of the airport, the shopping area will be spread across 24,541 sq ft. Of this, 14,585 sq ft will be at the departure level, 8,395 sq ft at the arrival level and 1,560 sq ft will be for storage. They will be responsible for designing and building the shopping environment, sourcing a wide range of international luxury brands and developing a strong promotional strategy."
Alpha Future, a joint venture between the UK-based Alpha Airport Group and the Future Group, has opened its duty-free shops at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. It will manage one outlet in arrivals and four in departures covering an area of about 8,000 square feet. "This is an attempt at bringing world class shopping to India " says Arora.
Sky is not the limit
With successful infrastructure development, the prospects of India becoming an MRO hub and a leader in the Asia-Pacific region have also become bright. Increased activity in the MRO sector has attracted many foreign companies. Lufthansa has tied up with GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL) to open such a facility for which it intends to invest US$ 23 million. Similarly, Boeing intends to invest US$ 100 million in a facility in Nagpur.
Aerotropolis, or the airport cities that are economically dependent on the airport for its existence, may be a distant reality in India. While places like Hong Kong, Beijing and Dubai are already developing Aerotropolises, Bangalore and Hyderabad are following suit.
Moreover, the move to reduce dwell time of cargo from seven days to three days and possibility of using new systems like Common User Terminal System (CUTE) are positive steps. The private sector is also showing interest in the merchant airport policy, being prepared by the civil aviation ministry for building dedicated cargo airports to boost the logistics chain in the country. Airport developers in the private sector are also tying up with realty firms to help them acquire land.
The ambitious Rs 644 crore GPS-based Geo Augmentation Navigation (GAGAN) project - jointly executed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Airports Authority of India, having completed its phase one, will provide augmented information for satellite navigation to aircraft flying over Indian airspace and the routes over seas.
With all the development taking place the scene is set for giant leaps in aviation. But there are also some grey areas which need to be addressed. Vipul Jain, MD and CEO of Kale Consultants, says, "At a macro level, airports need to be integrated into the urban development plan. There needs to be a synchronisation of systems for airports to be truly successful. The idea of an Aerotropolis is good on paper. But the major problem in India today is the problem of connectivity. The airport and the city should be well connected."
Connectivity is the single biggest problem. In Hyderabad measures like the elevated corridor, the longest in India from Masab Tank to Aramgarh is designed to tackle this problem. A plan for a dedicated rail service from Begumpet to the new airport is also at the proposal stage. In Bangalore, the approach to the airport will be through National Highway 7 (NH7). From NH7, the airport is at a stretch of five kilometers. A four-lane approach road is being developed by BIAL. This lane is parallel to the runway and will link NH7 to the terminal complex. This road, primarily serving the terminal building, will also link the other airport support facilities. Albert Brunner, CEO of BIAL, "The trumpet interchange which will connect NH7 to this approach road was to be built by the state authorities but has now been taken into BIAL's scope of work. The construction is underway and this will be ready for AOD (Airport Opening Date). A rail link is needed here."
Jain further talks about an issue which has been often raised in recent times - the need for an independent regulatory authority. He says "At a micro level, there should be an independent regularity authority in place which will have transparent tariffs and governance. An airport by nature is in itself a monopoly. There is no natural competition. When there is an independent authority in place, it creates opportunities for dialogue between the stakeholders. Such an authority is present in other parts of the world and India also needs it soon."
Investment stands not only for financial backing but also interest in terms of time and focus. For instance, there are a number of service providers at the airport and it helps if common standards and common usage of systems are followed - like the cargo community system in foreign countries, one amongst many such set-ups, data about cargo is shared between an agent, shipper, airliner and ground handlers and all others involved in the transaction. The whole process is paperless and results in a smooth transaction. In most Indian airports today, things like cargo handling and dispatch take around five to six days. With transparent integrated systems in place, the burgeoning needs on ground can be addressed efficiently
Another dispute has been regarding the stopover charges levied at the Indian airports which are said to be nearly 25 per cent higher than other international airports, resulting in international airlines avoiding India as stopover points for long-haul flights. The AAI, however, denies these claims. If India is to compete globally, issues like these must be resolved at the earliest.
The Indian government's plan to spend US$ 20 billion over the next five years upgrading airports has brought some respite. But it is not enough. As per International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates, the amount of investment needed by the Indian aviation industry is around US$ 90 billion over the next 24 years and this provides opportunities for investors worldwide.