Friday, 21 November 2008

Are the protests about Bangalore International Airport justified?

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Ever since its beginning, Bangalore International Airport (BIA) has been in the eye of the storm. I would like to confess that I have not traveled abroad even once and not physically used great airports of the world. My air travel is limited to the Metros of this country. Here is my perception of the BIA protests:

1. BIA is too far away from the city.

True, but this fact was known to everybody from the date of its planning. Why did they not protest at that time? Some of the companies do own large chunks of unused land; very well they could have given it to the BIAL for setting up the airport in place of their convenience. To my knowledge, new international airports in most cities are away from the city. You could have had an airport in middle of the city, if India was not a democracy. It would have been easy to vacate thousands of acres of land forcibly. Authorities have to litigate hard to get a few meters of land for road widening, metro rail work, etc.

2. The proposed User Development Fees of BIA is high for domestic and budget airline travelers.

This is a very justified issue. The BIA should have 4 four levels of collection of UDF i.e. international passengers; domestic passengers (First Class, Economy Class and Budget Airlines). The UDF should be highest for international travel progressively declining for the subsequent classes.

3. The seating and rest room capacity of BIA is limited.

Yes, this is another justified issue. The seating capacity has to be increased given that people coming from long distance would like to reach ahead of time so that they don’t miss their flights. The rest room capacity is woefully inadequate and needs to be augmented.

4. The old HAL Airport needs to be re-used for domestic flights.

This demand is as absurd as the one that was made in Singur (WB) that ancillary facilities of the Nano plant have to be shifted out so that land can be returned to the farmers. The Government has an agreement with the BIAL authorities and is bound to honor it. Going back on this agreement may set-back Bangalore’s image as an investment destination for infrastructure projects. These are times of depression and air travel will be the first weapon of cost control. Such a big facility cannot be left to fend with dwindling international passengers. Come out of nostalgia folks, HAL Airport is history.

5. The BIAL looks like an industrial shed.

As it is we are complaining that the UDF is high, let’s us assume if this was an architectural marvel, what would have been the UDF. Moreover, an Airport is a transit point (forgive me for my naivety), if you want to see an architectural marvel go to the Vidhana Soudha, Taj Mahal, Charminar, Qutub Minar, Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, etc.

Yes, connectivity has to improve, the street lights have to get better but that is not the problem of BIAL authorities that is the Government’s responsibility. It is easy to ridicule anything but more important to realise that something good has come up. The BIA cannot be done away and at best can be improved. To be fair to BIA, it is quite comfortable (if you share my view of an airport being a transit point). The best thing about BIA is that you can commute to and fro by a bus from its door step.

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