It’s “impossible” for the Mumbai International Airport to manage its increased traffic load during the five years it will take for the metropolis to build a new airport, says an international expert on airport development.
“I think that in the case of Mumbai, it just can’t be done,” said David Inglus, assistant director for airport development at the International Air Transport Association(IATA), which represents almost all of the world’s major airlines. Inglus is responsible for all of IATA’s airport-related work in Japan, Southeast and South Asia.
Inglus said IATA had, last summer, warned officials at MIAL, but have not seen any change in plans. “Right, now, there is a less than 10% chance that Mumbai airport will be a world-class airport,” he said.
In an interview with Mint, Inglus said his motivation for speaking out was that inefficient airports end up costing IATA member-airlines significantly more than they pay for similar services at better-designed airports.
But a spokesman for Mumbai International Airport Ltd, while emphasizing the constraints that the airport faces, disagreed with IATA. The airport is landlocked, and of its 1,800 acres, almost 272 are encroached upon by slums, limiting the options that the airport has for development and expansion, says Manish Kalghatgi. “Given the limitations, we still believe that this will be a world-class airport,” said Kalghatgi.
MIAL is a consortium led by GVK Industries of Hyderabad, Johannesburg-based Airports Company South Africa, Bidvest Group (South Africa), and and fund manager Old Mutual.
In Mumbai, overcrowding at the existing airport, which is divided into separate terminals called Sahar and Santacruz that share the same two runways, has been an issue since passenger traffic in India surged around 2003. The current plans require this airport remain functional until at least 2012, when a new airport is built at Navi Mumbai, a rapidly developing area north of the city.
But in the years until then, passenger traffic at the existing airport will likely cross 40 million, which IATA believes the airport will be incapable of handling. MIAL is not involved in the construction of the new airport at Navi Mumbai, which is still in the planning stages.
The current airport was designed to handle no more than 10 million passengers a year, but is currently squeezing about 18.2 million passengers a year through congested security checks, back-up ticket counters and overflowing restaurants and lounges.
There has been some capacity-addition since the original design in 1981, and Kalghatgi said it was tough to estimate what the airport’s exact current capacity is. But, he said, MIAL planned to make more efficient use of the two runways (by adding taxiways and more parking bays) and to add capacity to the terminals so that the airport can eventually handle 40 million passengers a year.
To deal with that traffic, MIAL has invested an undisclosed amount of money in Terminal 1B. adding some capacity and modernising the look and feel of the terminal. That process was started by the AAI Airports Authority of India before handing over the airport to MIAL. Inglus said that money would be better spent speeding up the work at Navi Mumbai, instead of upgrading an airport that’s fundamentally over-crowded. “What they need is some really high-grade band-aids to hold the current airport together for a short period of time,” he said. “But they should be spending most of their funds building the new airport as soon as possible.”