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World class, but global takers slip away

New terminal at Kolkata Airport

Probal Basak  |  Kolkata 

Kolkata's long wait for a modern world-class airport is soon to end. The new terminal at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport at Dum Dum here, built at a cost of Rs 2,500 crore, is expected to welcome travellers from June.

A Thai-Indian consortium, of ITD-ITD Cementation, was hired by the Airports Authority of India to do this modernisation in November 2008. There will be a new terminal, modern taxiways and extension of a runway to handle the giant Airbus A380 aircraft. The new 195,000 sq metre, six-level, integrated terminal building would be able to handle 25 million passengers annually, against the present annual capacity of five million.

What has marred a celebratory mood is the ongoing exodus of airlines from here,especially of foreign operators. The latest to drop its international services from here was crisis-ridden Kingfisher. A marquee name that bid adieu to the airport recently was Lufthansa. Following the Frankfurt-headquartered airline's exit this month, Kolkata lost its lone remaining link to Europe, with British Airways having departed the state in March 2009. Among the operating international airlines, Qatar Airlines and Emirates fly to West Asia; the others only connect South and Southeast Asian countries.

International airlines that have stopped flying to Kolkata in the last 10 years International airlines operating out of Kolkata
  • Lufthansa
  • British Airways
  • Malaysian Airlines
  • Jetstar Asia
  • Royal Nepal Airlines
  • Gulf Air
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • Royal Brunei Airlines
  • KLM
  • Aeroflot
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Qatar Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways
  • AirAsia
  • Drukair
  • SilkAir
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • United Airways
  • GMG Airlines
  • Biman Bangladesh

“The industry, specially long-haul services, are essentially linked to business prospects of the state. There is no new industry; you cannot expect the aviation sector to grow. Flying to the city is not viable for operators,” said Anil Punjabi, eastern region chairman of the Travel Agents Federation of India.

With 78 immigration centres, 18 aerobridges, 128 check-in counters based on common user terminal equipment, 27 elevators, 16 escalators and 13 travellators, the new airport has all the modern facilities needed for commuters. But, says Punjabi, the new airport can “only improve the quality of service”; the exodus of airlines cannot be stopped unless “business prospect in the city improves”.

The exodus is not new and seems linked to the anti-industry image the state has developed over the years. The list of foreign operators that quit West Bengal in the past decade include Gulf Air, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Royal Brunei, KLM, Malaysian Airlines and Jetstar Asia. Domestic operators such as Deccan Charters and Paramount had also snapped services in Kolkata over recent years.

The foreign airlines still operating out of the city are Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Airasia, Druk Air, Silk Air, China Eastern Airlines, United Airways, Emirates, Biman Bangladesh and Qatar Airways.

There is apprehension that more airlines could pull out from the city following an enhanced airport charge with the new terminal. “The different airlines would also be allotted their own space in the new airport, resulting in higher charge for operators. You can see more foreign operators snapping the Kolkata operation because of this. The airport now handles over four million passengers, but the growth is mainly in domestic passengers,” said an airport official.

Of the 4.5 million annual passenger traffic, about 70 per cent are domestic. The growth in the past two years for international passengers was about 12 per cent against 20 per cent growth in the case of domestic ones. Between April 2006 and March 2011, Kolkata airport was the fifth busiest airport in India in terms of overall passenger traffic and ninth busiest in international passenger traffic.

First Published: Sat, April 28 2012. 00:40 IST