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Airlines, staff want existing airports to stay

Anjuli Bhargava  |  New Delhi 

Old airports at Hyderabad and Bangalore to be closed soon.
Even as the date for the two new state-of-the-art international airports in Bangalore and Hyderabad to start operations comes closer, lobbying to prevent closure of the existing facilities "" at the Airport Authority of India's Begumpet airport in Hyderabad and HAL airport in Bangalore "" has got louder.
Senior government sources say many local members of Parliament, airlines, resident welfare organisations and staff at the existing airports are protesting against full closure on various grounds.
"Yes, the crescendo is rising. In fact, we recently had a meeting in the ministry to discuss this, but we are bound by the contract," said a civil aviation ministry official.
The contracts with Bangalore International Airport Ltd and Hyderabad International Airport Ltd provide for closure of the existing facilities when the new airports start.
The official says the ministry will discuss with the new operators to see if the old facilities can still be used by low-cost carriers or for general aviation.
Sources said the protests had been festering for some time but have got more audible with the closure date approaching. The airports are expected to start by March 2008.
Local MPs have started questioning why the existing airports can't be kept open for at least some commercial flights while the residents are complaining about the distance they will have to travel to reach the new airports.
Without a regulator in place, many airlines (especially the low-cost ones) fear the new airports may charge arbitrary rates "" the assumption being that the new airports will provide far better facilities and charge more.
In Bangalore, for instance, Kingfisher Airlines Chairman Vijay Mallya is of the view that closing the existing facility does not make sense. SimpliFly Deccan's Executive Chairman GR Gopinath has been echoing this view for a long time.
In addition, employees at the existing airports have started lobbying to retain their jobs (unlike in Delhi and Mumbai, there is no obligation for the new airports to hire the old staff).
The AAI officials, partly due to revenue loss and partly due to concern for the employees, are privately keen on keeping Hyderabad airport open. Even HAL, which earlier claimed that it wanted its airport for its own use, is now hesitant.

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First Published: Tue, November 20 2007. 00:00 IST