Some 10 months from now, Bangalore will get a new airport at Devanahalli, 35 km from the city, but the city’s information technology industry wants the state to continue using the current airport for short-haul flights.
“It does not make sense for a person to drive two hours to reach an airport and then take a one-hour flight,” said T.V. Mohandas Pai, director for human resources at Infosys Technologies Ltd, one of the city’s flagship software companies. Civilian air traffic from the existing airport in the city, owned by the public sector defence aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), will cease once the new airport being built by Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) becomes operational according to a concession agreement between the company and the central government.
Spokespersons for the ministry of civil aviation and BIAL said there was no proposal to change or change in the concession agreement between them and that the HAL airport would have to be closed to civilian air traffic once the new airport came up. A change, if any, would happen only after discussions with BIAL and approval from the Union cabinet, said the spokesperson at the ministry. Pai and Infosyschief executive designateS. Gopalakrishnan were part of a delegation led by the National Association of Software and Services Companies, the industry lobby, which met Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, to discuss infrastructure issues in Bangalore.
The IT industry contributes more than half to Bangalore’s net domestic product or over a quarter to Karnataka’s gross domestic product. “New York has three airports, London has three airports, why shouldn’t Bangalore have two airports. This (HAL) airport could continue with domestic flights,” Pai said.
The IT industry employs over 6.75 lakh people in Bangalore, nearly a tenth of the city’s population, and fears the commuting time to the new airport would take longer than the flight duration to destinations such as Chennai.
Kumaraswamy promised to look into their proposal but did not commit to anything, said Mamata Gowda, a spokesperson at the chief minister’s office. The chief minister’s 20-month term, under an agreement to share power with the Bharatiya Janata Party—he belongs to the JD(S)—ends in September when he is expected to hand over power to a BJP leader.
BIAL is the holding company of a consortium led by Siemens Projects Ventures, a German infrastructure company, Larsen & Toubro Ltd, and Unique Zurich Airport, which operates the international airport at Zurich, Switzerland. The Karnataka government and the Airports Authority of India each hold a 13% stake in the company.
BIAL expects the airport at Devanahalli to handle around 10.12 million passengers by 2010, in the initial phase of the project and eventually grow to be able to handle 40 million passengers.
The HAL airport, which sees over 165 flights a day, handled over seven million passengers in 2006. “The passenger growth is enormous and both airports can handle the traffic. Not only short-haul flights, but flights on trunk routes can also be continued (from the existing airport),” said A.K. Saxena, managing director, Bangalore Complex, HAL.