Bangalore: Swiss CEO Albert Brunner, whose nation takes pride in its clocks and watches, is racing against time to get a showpiece airport up and running in the hi-tech Indian city of Bangalore.
Brunner’s deadline for Bangalore International Airport to receive and send off the first of the eight million passengers it expects to handle in its first year is 2 April 2008.
That is a date the chief executive of Bangalore International Airport Ltd (Bial) is determined to keep.
If he succeeds, it will be a remarkable victory for a project conceived in 1991, but construction of which began only 14 years later after it was awarded in July 2005 to a consortium including Unique Zurich Airport, Siemens of Germany and Larsen and Toubro of India.
The airport, expected to cost $500 million (Rs2,000 crore), has been designed for 11 million passengers a year, up from the five million first envisaged, as traffic growth accelerated with an expanding economy.
“It has been a race against time from day one,” Brunner, 57, who previously worked on the $2 billion Zurich airport expansion, said in an interview on the project site. “We have really had to struggle because we made it much bigger.”
India’s airport infrastructure is in terrible shape, as any passenger can testify in a country where landing at the Delhi or Bangalore airports may be preceded by two hours circling before a pilot finds parking space.
Congestion is growing at airports as low-cost airlines proliferate to take advantage of train travellers upgrading from the state-run train network.
“The deadline is tight,” conceded Brunner, who spent almost as long on negotiating the project as the three years he undertook to build the airport in. “But we want to show it can be done so we didn’t shift the date.”
Brunner, chosen to head the 4,050-acre project because of a reputation for patience, may just pull it off.
Six thousand workers are working day and night seven days a week, he said, to ensure the deadline is kept in a nation where large projects routinely overrun by years, even decades.
By Thursday, 77% of the work on the airport being built in Devanahalli, 35km from Bangalore, was complete, Brunner said.
The roof, front and back glass facade and the side walls of the terminal building are completed, as is the paving of the 4km runway. Seven of the eight bridges between the building and the apron are also done. A fuel depot and cargo handling complex are being built at an additional cost of $173 million.
Bial will apply for a licence by the end of September and start initial trials of systems by October, said Brunner.
“We try hard to keep our reputation as timekeepers of the world,” he said.