Sparrows at the gates, as BIA turns two

Two years into operation, the Bengaluru airport is seeing almost 10 million passengers annually. And they will soon open doors to more by expanding Terminal One.

It has been two years and the Bengaluru International Airport (BIA) attracts some unusual visitors – sparrows. They flutter about in the domestic lounge as passengers read the newspaper, work on their laptop or grab a bite. Bangalore-based ornithologist Dr Krishna M B says that it is because Devanahalli is an agricultural area. "Sparrows are grain-eaters but they are not field-oriented. Today they are found more in the outskirts and are not widely distributed", he says, explaining the possible reasons for this sudden influx in Bangalore’s swanky airport.

sparrows at BIAL

Sparrows at an eatery in the domestic lounge of the Bengaluru Airport. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

Well, it’s just one of the many ‘achievements’ recorded by the airport. Two years into operation, the BIA has managed to attract more than just these curious birds, with a passenger traffic of 9.92 million a year (as of March 2010). This is an 18 per cent increase in international traffic and 13 per cent in domestic, through a period of one year, says Marcel Hungerbuehler, President, Bengaluru International Airport Limited (BIAL), in an exclusive interview with Citizen Matters, marking their second anniversary.

Currently, around 32 airlines are operating from BIA, connecting the city to 49 destinations, worldwide. On an average, the airport sees 153 take-offs and 153 landings on a single day. Hungerbuehler says, "With the advent of new international and domestic flights and routes, the airport has marked the beginning of better connectivity between Bangalore and the world."

BIAL has also announced the expansion of Terminal 1 to 70 per cent of its current capacity. Hungerbuehler says this will begin in September this year and will then have additional passenger space of 40,000 sq metres. "This addition will take the terminal capacity to 17 million passengers per annum, a requirement that will suffice till the year 2015", he adds.

Terminal 1

In September this year, BIAL will begin work on expanding Terminal 1. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

On plans for a second runway, BIAL’s Director (Operations), Hari Marar says this will be defined by the traffic. "It maybe required in 2016. But it also depends on traffic changes", he says, adding that the base plan for the second runway is ready and will take about three to four years to execute. He, however, refused to reveal when exactly the work will begin.

But apart from future expansion, BIAL President Hungerbuehler says that they are constantly looking to enhance features of the airport. One of their Information Techonology (IT) initiaves is a human interactive airport touch panel kiosk termed as Common Use Self Service. BIAL has signed an agreement with Moveo Systems to set up these kiosks at strategic locations in the airport. "These kiosks will be that one point of contact that will provide information regarding the airport services, the various food and retail options, airlines, immigration, customs protocol and travel guidelines. Additionally, the passenger will receive live news feeds, destination, weather and city guides at the kiosk", says Hungerbuehler.

Departure punctuality and cargo-handling

BIAL says the departure of flights has been regular with close to 80 per cent punctuality in the last few months. Baggage delivery is said to stand at seven minutes of the first baggage placed on the belt, both for domestic and international arrivals.

Airport authorities attribute this punctuality to a concept called Airport Operations Control Center (AOCC), a 24/7 centre that coordinates with all organisations involved in the functioning of the airport.

On the cargo side, the airport can handle around 3.5 lakh tonnes of cargo. BIAL says that for 2009-10, they handled approximately 1.7 lakh tonnes.

Thumbs up, overall

Located about 35 kms from the city centre, the BIA opened on May 24th 2008. At that time, the main concern, especially for south Bangaloreans, was about the distance of the airport and the commute options for passengers. Bannerghatta Road-resident Mahesh Srinivas says the challenge of commuting is only till you get out of the city. "But you have some cars and taxis parked on the approach road to the airport, which causes a jam", he says.

Journalist and writer Ammu Joseph, who is also a frequent air-traveller, says the amount of time taken to commute is still a huge problem. "You have to account for one and a half hours each way. That’s a huge disadvantage. But the distance per say is not a problem", she feels, adding that a dedicated mass rapid transport is required. Thomas van Berckel, a Bangalore-based entrepreneur, says the travel time is too much. "But I can understand the reason as it is for long-term planning", says this native of Holland.

Facilities at the airport

BIA passengers say the facilties at the airport are top-notch. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

About the facilities at the airport, Ammu says BIA is better than most other airports in the country. "Maybe more bathrooms are required. They are closed because of cleaning especially before departure", she adds.

Srinivas says that facilities at BIA are "top-notch". He says the airport is clean, check-in process is smooth, kiosks are efficient and adequate seating is available.

Ravi Rao, President of Prestige Group, also feels that the airport is excellent in terms of facilities including parking, food and security. He, however, feels that areas of improvement include the problem of stray dogs, cafeteria facilities for drivers, clarity in announcements and provision of seating space for visitors. But he also feels that BIA is among the best of airports he has seen.

Seating arrangement at BIAL outside

Prestige Group President Ravi Rao feels that there should be seats provided for visitors outside the airport. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

Aviation expert and head of the infrastructure committee of the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC), Devesh Agarwal rates BIA as the best in India in terms of systemic efficiency. Agarwal feels that the airport is upto the mark and is delivering.

Bangalore’s traffic pattern may be a challenge

The BIA has seen passenger traffic growth of 14 per cent annually since its operations began in 2008. Hungerbuehler says this trend is likely to continue this year as well. Once Terminal 1 is expanded, it can hold 17 million passengers per annum which will suffice till 2015, he adds.

As noted earlier, BIA is handling passenger traffic of 9.92 million a year, as of March 2010. Interestingly in 2008, BIA had projected a traffic of 13.2 million for 2008-09 and 23.6 million for 2013-14.

Agarwal however feels that the traffic pattern in Bengaluru is extremely challenging for BIAL to realise the capacity potential of the runway, and therefore by extension get adequate returns on investment.

The traffic pattern in Bangalore is such that there is peak hour utilisation (6 am to 10 am and 6 pm to 10 pm), with very little traffic during mid-day. "Since Bengaluru’s traffic is more towards business and leisure, people prefer to travel in the morning and come back in the evening. It is not viable for airline to operate in non-peak hours unless they provide better connections beyond", says Hungerbuehler.

BIAL president

BIAL President Marcel Hungerbuehler says their goal is to ensure no inequities in a passenger’s overall airport experience. Pic: Vaishnavi Vittal

The air traffic in Bangalore is also largely origin and destination traffic, with very little transit traffic. With no anchor airline for support, ask BIAL the reason for this and Hungerbuehler says, "Most Indian carriers have national operations and hence do not follow the hub and spoke model due to minimum connecting traffic to international destinations".

Having just turned two, BIAL vows to continue developing and modernising the airport infrastructure to avoid capacity constraints, improve air space efficiency and minimise costs. "As the air traveler becomes discerning, it is imperative to ensure that we do not create any inequities in his overall airport experience."

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