New Delhi / Bangalore: The Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd or HAL-run international airport at Bangalore, which has handled air traffic for nearly three decades at India’s tech capital, will be shuttered for scheduled commercial flights as a new international airport on the outskirts of the city at Devanahalli starts operations by the end of this month.
The decision, subject to approval from the country’s courts, comes a fortnight after the civil aviation ministry asked Bangalore International Airport Ltd, or Bial, a Siemens AG-led company developing the new airport, to allow the HAL-run airport to remain open for short-haul flights for a year until there are better roads to the city from the new airport, 35km away.
Making way: A file photo of a Kingfisher Airlines plane at the HAL-run Bangalore airport. The airport will remain open for flights carrying senior government officials, business charters and helicopter services
Bial turned down that proposal at a Monday meeting in the capital that was attended by senior Karnataka government officials, besides representatives from the aviation ministry. “They are not agreeable. In terms of the contractual and legal (issues) involved, they do not think it is economically feasible to operate old airport (along with the new one),” civil aviation secretary Ashok Chawla told reporters after the meeting.
Under the contract signed between the government and Bial, the HAL-run airport was to shut domestic scheduled operations as soon as the new one opened. The contract also says no new airport will be allowed within a 150km flying radius for more than two decades.
Aviation secretary Chawla, however, said the issue was still “live” because of “public sensitivity” and the Karnataka high court’s advice that the ministry, Bial management and HAL discuss options to keep the old airport open.
The government, the aviation secretary said, will continue negotiations with Bial after the new airport opens.
The proposed closure of the HAL-led airport was challenged by several public interest litigations, asking the government why it would not allow choice to passengers by keeping both airports open, and how it would justify closing down the HAL-run airport when taxpayers’ money had been spent on upgrading it.
One of the litigants said he expected the courts to overturn Monday’s decision.
“We still are hopeful that the court will give us a favourable verdict,” said G.R. Mohan, an advocate who filed a petition in the Karnataka high court. Mohan said he would appeal for the existing airport to be retained once the court reopens after a vacation on 26 May.
Litigants such as Mohan have argued that Bial will not suffer revenue losses because it had made its projections on nine million passengers, which had already been exceeded at Bangalore, the demand on which revenue projections were made when the new airport was proposed.
Last year, the HAL-run airport is estimated to have handled over 10 million passengers. The city, home to India’s leading tech service firms, is expected to see 13 million passengers at the Bial airport in the first year of operations.
The HAL-run airport will remain open for flights carrying senior Union and state government officials, guests of the state, business charters and helicopter services.
While the exact date of the new airport opening has still not been decided, partly due to the ongoing elections in the state, Karnataka’s chief secretary Sudhakar Rao said he expects it to be anywhere between 23 May and the month-end. Representatives of the aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation will also be visiting the new airport in the next two-three days to finalize granting it an aerodrome licence.
Bial’s chief executive officer Albert Brunner said having an old operational airport would have invited legal challenges from the nearly 15 companies at the new airport who have been awarded various contracts, such as ground handling, based on the assumption that this will be the only functioning airport.
On a controversial plan to levy what is called “user development fee” at the Bial airport, Brunner said, the new airport will charge Rs1,075 from departing international passengers for the first three months.
The company hopes to levy about Rs675 from third month onwards on domestic departing passengers. This plan, however, will need government approval.