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  • MODERATOR:

    Hello and welcome to a chat with Mr A K Bhattacharya on how to prevent India's airports from looking like its railway stations.


    A K BHATTACHARYA:

    Hello, everyone


  • M

    MAHESH SHARMA

    Do Indian airports really look like railway stations? I thought airports were in much better state than our railway stations...

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    Well, if you are referring to my article, the suggestion was that if no concrete remedial action is taken, our airports will turn into railway stations. Many of our airports look much better than railways stations at present. There is no doubt about this. But should airports be at all compared with railways stations. The analogy was made to drive home the ominous prospects that India's airports are faced with. Already, if you have been using Terminal 1-D of the Delhi Airport, you would see how passengers are overflowing from all its corners and the authorities are at pains to live up to their expectations of quality service. The piece was to highlight the huge demand for increasing airports capacity in the country's major metro airports and take quick steps to enhance their capacity. Unfortunately, building airport capacity is not an easy task and cannot be completed in just a year or two. It takes time. Hence, the piece asked for early steps.


  • B

    BALASUBRAMANIAN

    "Is it very difficult for the government, with all its powers, to source expertise (inhouse and from outside) and finance to set up a timetable and plan of action for addressing this issue with commitment, foresight and futuristic vision? What we need is a mapping of traffic of Tier-I and -II cities. Plan airports' construction with a 30-40-year horizon and a provision for expansion for the next 30-40 years. That might only require incremental costs. Do lawmakers have this sort of a vision? Or are we destined to accept mediocrity in our thought process. I know for a fact that sovereign funds and foreign investors are waiting in the wings to invest in infra (anywhere in the world) but are handicapped by a dearth of good projects backed by credible information on viability and returns. Can't think-tanks and influential experts in the civil aviation industry put some sense in these lawmakers? Look up at this link http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31815&articlexml=Citings-Its-Projects-Not-Capital-15102015016064 Your recent article (which is very informative) and this chat session look like one bat visiting the house of the other so that both can hang upside down, even as your expert opinion falls on deaf ears of decision makers."

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    As citizens of our country, we have to remain optimistic about the possibility of change. Cynicism or remaining mired in pessimism will not take us anywhere. Having said that, let me say that your observations about the state of the civil aviation infrastructure are valid. What we are seeing right now is not any paucity of ideas that can fix the problems. What is lacking is a robust agency that can implement those ideas. One way forward would be to divest the government of that responsibility. Instead, it would be good to get an empowered agency in place to give a push to building aviation infrastructure, that is vitally needed to respond to the growing demand in this sector. We should be able to get a lot of investors interested in such a situation, I believe.


  • D

    DILNA

    Will opening many counters for issuing flight tickets and a cabin for taking care of overweight baggage help?

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    Yes, these small measures can go a long way in debottlenecking the airports at present. But these will only be palliatives. The need of the hour is to plan ahead and commission new projects to enhance capacity at existing airports and go for new airports in the major cities in the country. There is no reason why the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Kolkata should not have a second airport at the earliest.


  • V

    VIRAJ JOG

    Sir, with due respect to every citizen, why do we have a careless attitude towards national property — be it airports or railway stations? Isn't it like Yatha Raja Tatha Praja?

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    I am not sure what you say can be defended. Just because the rulers are careless about maintaining and improving the capacity of national facilities and properties, the citizens have no right to behave as irresponsibly. It think one of the advantages in a democracy is that if the rules behave irresponsibly, the citizens have the right to vote them out.


  • A

    ANAND MOHAN

    Sir, if India's airports look like railway stations, what is the harm (provided they remain clean)? With cleanliness at airports and huge rush there, as at railway stations, will that not signify the following? 1. Increase in spending capacity of Indian masses to undertake air travel 2. Early recovery of cost of developing airports by business houses 3. Optimum use of huge infrastructure of airports created in the economy (to avoid situations like the one at the Jaisalmer airport.

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    You are correct. It is important to ensure cleanliness and quality service delivery at Indian airports. If that attracts more people to airports, it is a positive development for the Indian economy. Unfortunately, however, the airport capacity in major cities in the country will choke soon, given the current pace of passenger volume growth. Hence, the need would be to enhance their capacity and improve their services. Without addressing these two areas of concern, airports will be hindrance to the aviation sector's sustained growth.


  • R

    RISHI

    Why don't we want airports to look like railway stations? Shouldn't we rather worry about how to make railway stations look like airports? Many Indians are unlikely to see how airports look, in there lifetime...

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    There is no denying that India's railway stations should look better and should be improved. Several initiatives are being taken to upgrade and modernise railway stations. But the reality of the Indian railway station also cannot be ignored. While the goal should be to make railway stations look like airports, a goal that should be pursued simultaneously is to prevent the deterioration of airports into the current poor state of Indian railway stations. It is not a question of whether Indians are unlikely to see how airports look like in their life. The important question is to make railway stations better and prevent airports from looking like the current degraded state of India's airports. Both goals are equally important.


  • B

    BARUN

    Terminal 1 in Delhi is increasingly looking like an upmarket version of Delhi Haat, a lot of space is taken up by shops and displays, and the space for citizens who have purchased tickets to fly out is shrinking. During peak traffic time, there is not enough space for passengers to sit. Who is to regulate the service quality at the airports?

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    There is an airports regulator set up by the government - Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India. All these issues, you have raised, are valid and need to be examined by the regulator. There is also a lack of consumer culture in India. Customers do not feel encouraged to demand for services that are due to them. The government too does not step in frequently enough and ask the regulators to play the role expected of them to ensure proper service delivery by airports.


  • S

    SOHAIL

    What do you think of India's airports looking like railway stations today — there was no such issue at the time when the Congress was in power... I think BJP is only collecting the funds in the government's treasury through various programmes. The Pradhan Mantri Jivan Jyoti Yojana, for example, has collected Rs 23,000 crore. Will the government use the funds for welfare of the nation and its public?

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    India's airport infrastructure would not get better if we politicise the issue. The unfortunate fact is that airport infrastructure has been largely neglected by several governments in the past. There have been periodic pious statements made by government leaders to give the airports infrastructure a big push. But after some initial movements, the exercise has lost steam. At present, we are at one of those unfortunate moments where the initiatives that we saw in the first decade of the current century have lost momentum. The need today is to give them a bigger push along with ensuring better regulation.


  • S

    S K NAIR

    In your article on airports, you wrote about the need for a third airport in Mumbai. But the facts are: the existing ones at Santa Cruz and Sahar are surrounded by hundreds of acres of slums. The land actually belongs to the airport! Local politicians do not allow shifting the slum-dwellers to other places because they are a vote bank. Again, a new airport is being constructed at Navi Mumbai, far away from Fountain area and western suburbs, at huge financial and environmental costs (cutting mangroves, filling back waters, diverting a river, breaking down a hill, and so on). But politicians have already purchased huge tracts of land nearby which they would sell at a huge profit later! At the same time, there is an airstrip available at Kalyan about 50-60 km from Fountain and well connected by both rail and road. This airstrip is surrounded by hundreds of acres of unoccupied government land that was used by the British during the second world war. No politician talks about developing the Kalyan airstrip, which can be developed at a low financial cost and no environmental loss. Similar might be the case with other metros. The problem is created by our so-called leaders. Why railway stations, airports might even look like state transport bus stands in a few years. Do you believe we will have world-class airports when vested interests are at play?

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    Your guess is as good as mine. But I do believe that with proper regulation and competition, the problems of India's airport infrastructure can get resolved to a great extent. Removing dwellings around existing airports or airport strips will be a difficult task and politically problematic. It would be better, therefore, to plan for greenfield airport projects, which are not likely to face the kind of problems that you have listed here. But even for new airport projects, it would be important to keep in mind the need for strict regulation and ensuring competition.


  • B

    BONY SHARMA

    What are the development plans for air traffic management and control, and what about airport security challenges? We don't need "shopping mall" airports, do we?

    A K BHATTACHARYA

    We have to have a balanced approach in this area. We cannot completely shun shopping outlets in airports. Of course, they should not be set up at the cost of causing inconvenience to passengers. As I said earlier, there is an airports regulator - the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India, which should make sure that airports do not become shopping malls. Please also remember that shopping outlets in airports also meet a basic passenger need - spending an hour or so in airports before the plane takes off is an opportunity for many of them to do some shopping before you land in another city. Investors in airports also look at this as an opportunity to enhance their returns. Globally, non-aviation revenues form a good chunk of the airports' total earnings. There is a health mix in this ratio, which the regulator can ensure. If it is not playing that role, the government must fix the regulator or its functions. Not having shopping outlets at all in airports is not an answer. Air traffic management and controls are at present under government agencies and even in private airports, these functions have not been handed over to private parties. Ideally, these need not be privatised because of security requirements and also it would be good to have a national agency overseeing these functions across the country. The same argument is valid for meeting airport security challenges. Private airports must function in sync with the needs of security and air traffic controls that are overseen by national agencies. The separation of roles is a good idea and need not be tinkered with at present.


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