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Kolkata's runway dreams

Sohini Das & Ishita Ayan Dutt  |  Kolkata 

AVIATION: In a Rs 1,942-crore revamp exercise, the — the

Even as private airport developers in Delhi and elsewhere struggle to find money for their projects, Kolkata’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport has begun work on a Rs 1,942.51-crore modernisation exercise that will enhance its capacity five-fold to 24 million passengers per annum, and, allow the ultra-large aircraft to land and take off from its tarmac. The time-frame for the first phase of the project is a little over two years.

Once the upgrade and expansion plan is executed, the integrated airport will be able to handle up to 7,520 passengers per hour, up from the current 2,850 people it can manage. It will then overtake the Bangalore airport in capacity and be next in size only to the airports at Mumbai and Delhi. The modernisation project is being undertaken by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), after the Left parties said that Kolkata airport will not be allowed to be privatised like the airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Incidentally, the investment in the Kolkata airport will be less than that of Bangalore at Rs 2,470 crore and Hyderabad at Rs 2,500 crore. But in terms of peak-hour passenger capacity, Hyderabad can handle 3,200 people while Bangalore can handle 3,000 passengers compared to Kolkata’s proposed 7,520 passengers per hour.

In the first phase, the second runway will be extended to 3,200 meters and 11 additional parking bays for aircraft will be constructed. There are 36 bays currently. Also on the cards is a new control tower, a technical block and a multi-layer car park for 1,400 cars.

Both the runways will also be able to handle the world’s biggest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, and additional apron suitable for parking a 23 ‘C’ type of aircraft. The new integrated passenger terminal will have world-class steel and glass structure with modern passenger facilities like passenger boarding bridges with Visual Docking System to guide pilots to align aircrafts with the aerobridges, central air-conditioning, escalator and baggage conveyor system in the arrival as well as the departure hall.

“The interiors of the airport will reflect the local heritage brought alive through paintings, motifs, and murals. The design for the airport, in fact, has won the merit award for un-built project of 2008 from the American Institute of Architects, Hong Kong chapter,” said an AAI official.

RMJM, Hong Kong Limited, part of the London-based group and the eighth largest architecture firm in the world, has been roped in as one of the consultants for the project. are its Indian partner. Another reputed international consultant, Aeroports du paris internationale, too, is working on the project being planned as one of the major gateway airports to South-East Asia.

In the second and third phases, the existing international and domestic terminals will be revamped and made contiguous. While the latter two phases figure in the master plan, AAI will take a final call depending on the demand as well as the success of the first phase.

The current expansion project does not require any additional land. No land will be required even for the second and third phases when the existing terminals will be replaced.

AAI will bring 80 per cent of the funds required for the project; the rest will come from commercial borrowings. “The Public Investment Board has been assured of AAI’s financial performance and its capacity to achieve financial closure for the project,” a statement from the civil ministry said. AAI officials in Delhi added that there is no proposal for any development fee or user fee to bankroll the airport’s upgrade. The Thai-Indian consortium, ITD-CEM, has bagged the contract for the project.

The plans, however, are being questioned by experts for its timing. Critics argue that the airport is increasing its capacity at a time when air traffic is on the decline not just in India but worldwide. The modernisation, according to Kolkata Airport Director VK Monga, was planned assuming a 20 per cent annual growth in domestic and 12 per cent growth in international traffic.

According to AAI statistics, international traffic to Kolkata grew just two per cent in April-October 2008-09. Domestic traffic during the period was flat, though most other airports saw a decline. The numbers are way short of the project’s assumptions, though there could be some revival in traffic after the air fare cuts were announced last week.

Monga claimed that traffic has actually picked up in the last two months and the figures will look better after these numbers are factored in.

First Published: Wed, January 07 2009. 00:00 IST