Bangalore: Three weeks before the scheduled launch of Bangalore’s latest showpiece, the Bengaluru International Airport, several issues remain unresolved.
On Friday, the airport conducted final flight trials. Five aircraft, two carrying journalists, two Indian Air Force aircrafts and one L&T chartered aircraft flew in.
The airport is scheduled to open for business on 30 March and Bangalore International Airport Ltd or Bial, the company developing it has been conducting trails for the past three months.
Friday was the peak trial day, according to Albert Brunner, CEO of Bial. “We will know by tomorrow whether everything went smoothly or not,” he said, adding that a team from the union civil aviation ministry would analyse the results.
That is likely to be the least significant of the challenges Brunner and the airport face.
Mounting pressure from airlines, airport employees and civic groups is forcing the union civil aviation ministry to examine the options of keeping the city’s existing airport open.
And Bial now has to argue its case for a user development fee, or UDF, it proposes to charge passengers after it received a communication from the ministry to reconsider this.
A parliamentary standing committee on transport has recommended that the existing airport continue to operate and the Karnataka high court will hear, on 10 March, a petition by a city resident on the same issue. The main complaint seems to be that in the absence of good roads to the new airport, passengers might spend between two and three hours on the road to it—more than it takes to fly to Hyderabad, Chennai, even Mumbai from Bangalore.
While allowing the existing airport, owned by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, to function will go against the concession agreement between Bial and the government,
And Bial says that revising its UDF will hamper returns. Bial proposes to charge Rs675 for a domestic air traveller and Rs955 for a passenger on an international flight.
“We are convinced on the fact that we need to have a UDF as we need to to give the comfort to our investors that their investment is somehow secure and can be recovered,” Brunner said.
“It will be impossible for us to find investors in the future for the next expansion phase if we cannot recover the initial expense and therefore a zero UDF is a no go for us,” he added.
Bial will invest more than Rs2,500 crore in the second phase of expansion, which will include an additional runway to accommodate passenger traffic expected to grow by a third to 13 million passengers in the first year of operation. The company, a consortium of Siemens Projects Ventures, Larsen and Toubro Ltd and Unique Zurich Airport has currently invested about Rs2,530 crore in building the 4,000-acre airport over the past three years.
The airport currently has a 400m runway, which can handle about 440 aircraft movements a day when it opens, and a common terminal building for domestic and international passengers. Work on a hotel in a separate building is going on.
“I hope it (a licence to operate the airport) will be given in seven or ten days,” Brunner said.