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Monday, Feb 12, 2007

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Delhi, Mumbai airport modernisation — Efforts to ensure a smoother journey

Ashwini Phadnis

Chances are that many of us may have passed through either the Delhi or Mumbai airports, or both, over the last year. But how many of us saw or felt any perceptible changes in the two airports? Even if the less observant among us did not notice any changes, days after the first anniversary of the Government naming the GMR and GVK consortiums for modernising the Delhi and Mumbai airports, company officials outlined the steps taken to make the journey more comfortable for air passengers.

It was on January 31, 2006, that the Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr Praful Patel, announced that the empowered Group of Ministers had accorded its approval for the GMR combine to develop the Delhi airport, while GVK bagged the Mumbai airport project.

Officials of both the consortia, however, point out that actual work at the airports started only in May, when they were handed over to the new companies set up to run them. The focus at both the airports so far has been on taking steps to increase capacity handling. However, the companies maintain that work has also started to ensure passengers have a smoother journey.

New facilities in Delhi...

According to a spokesperson of the Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL), several new restaurants and take-away stalls, including Balaji Express, Subway and Yo! China, have been opened, apart from starting Avis car rentals at the Delhi airport. In addition, concession agreements have been signed with CNN to provide news and entertainment in the terminal area as also with Airtel to provide telecom facilities.

Besides, to cater to the additional airline and passenger traffic, terminal 1-B has been expanded to add more check-in counters along with new baggage X-ray machines and metal detectors for faster security clearance. More check-in, emigration and security counters have been added as part of the modernisation work at the international terminal as well.

In addition, the average aircraft movement at the airport increased from 500-520 per day at the beginning of 2006 to an average of 600-650 a day now. This was made possible by creating several new exit taxiways that allow aircraft to exit the runway faster, allowing a following aircraft to land faster. Besides, parallel taxiways ensure that an aircraft does not have to taxi on the runway, thus making it available for a longer time during take-off or landing.

... and Mumbai

Similarly, Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) has also undertaken steps that have resulted in the airport handling 600 air traffic movements daily, compared with 520 movements a year ago. Some of the other changes include additional check-in counters, cleaner toilets, better housekeeping, improved signage, better kerb-side management and smoother traffic flow. MIAL also appointed Changi airport of Singapore to review the master-plan and help improve airport operations and management.

A MIAL official pointed out that between April and December last year, the total passenger traffic handled by the airport stood at 16.22 million, including 10.8 million domestic passengers and 5.4 million international passengers. Further, the airport claims to have handled the maximum number of passengers last December. "We handled 2.15 million passengers including 1.43 million domestic and 720,000 international passengers. This shows the improvements that have been made at the airport since we took over in May last year," a spokesperson said.

Complaints, changes

Frequent flyers and airlines, however, still have their share of complaints. While passengers complain about delays in flights' landing and taking off from the two metros and increase in car parking and refreshment charges, the airlines complain about DIAL's move to ask for a Rs 2-crore deposit for seeking new approval for overnight parking at the airport.

So, what can passengers and airlines look forward to in the second year? In Delhi, work has started on the construction of a parallel runway, which will be one of the longest in Asia. The runway is likely to be operational in 2008, along with the new domestic terminal. Besides, work is also expected to start on the construction of Terminal 3 that will cater to both domestic and international passengers.

Likewise, in Mumbai, work will begin on refurbishment and construction of Terminal 2. Besides, revamp of terminal 1A will also start, which will see an increase in check-in counters and boarding bridges.

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