New Delhi: Following public pressure and the Karnataka high court’s advice that the Union government examine the option of keeping Bangalore’s existing airport open, the civil aviation ministry has asked the builders of a new airport in the southern metropolis to agree to a proposal allowing short-haul flights use of the current city aerodrome for another year. Short-haul flights account for about one-fifth of the air passenger traffic to and from Bangalore, India’s technology hub.
The new Bangalore airport will be permitted to start operations by end-May, civil aviation minister Praful Patel told reporters after a meeting with senior executives of Bangalore International Airport Ltd (Bial), a Seimens AG-led consortium that is the developer of the new airport at the city’s northern outskirts. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the ministry and officials of the Karnataka government. “We asked them to at least consider some of the options to keep it (the old airport open). Maybe for smaller aircraft and regional connectivity,” Patel said.
Bial is likely to present its views, including potential revenue loss as a result of the new proposal, at a subsequent meeting with the Union and state government functionaries on 12 May. Under a 2004 agreement between the Union government and Bial, the old city airport, owned by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is required to shut down commercial operations when the new airport is ready for operations.
“Both sides are willing to re-negotiate. This is altogether a new proposal,” said Sudhakar Rao, chief secretary of Karnataka, of Tuesday’s proposal.
If permitted use of the HAL airport, regional carriers and operators of aircraft such as 80-seater turboprop will have a competitive edge on short-haul routes such as Bangalore-Hyderabad or Bangalore-Hampi. Not only will they have the benefit of exemption from landing and parking charges that they already enjoy compared with larger planes, but passengers travelling on such planes will also save on a 90-minute drive from the city to the new airport.
It is unclear if the same decision, if accepted by Bial, will be applied to the new Hyderabad airport where, too, an existing Airports Authority of India-run airport was shut down when a GMR Infrastructure Ltd-led new airport at the city’s outskirts was ready earlier this year.
“The issue here is specific to Bangalore. First let us find a solution to this and then we would take up the others,” Patel said, adding that the date of opening for the new Bangalore airport will not be postponed beyond end-May.