Sunday, 9 March 2008

Rajiv Gandhi International Airport: Speed bumps to airport


March 9, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 8: It's utter chaos and confusion. With just a week left for
the new international airport at Shamshabad to become commercially operational, things do not appear as bright as they are projected.
First traffic chaos rules the connecting roads. Secondly, passengers, particularly domestic, are confused. Thirdly, low-cost airline operators are unhappy fearing loss of domestic business. And finally, pilots and airline crew find it really tiresome to report for duties at the new airport, 35 km away from their residence back in Hyderabad.
GMR Group, which executed India's first private-public partnership airport, may hail the Shamshabad airport as the best in its class in the country, but the changeover does not appear to be a smooth affair. The new airport may provide one of the best world class infrastructure for both domestic and international passengers, but to avail of such facilities the travelling public need to spend a few hours more, travelling more than 30 km through bottlenecks and dug-up roads.
Come March 16 and Hyderabad will get India's newest airport with a runway extending to more than four km facilitating quick landings and takeoffs. The flight delays may become a thing of the past and the passengers be able to reach their destination in time. But the only hitch is the road connectivity.
Though the State government is working over time to provide one of the best road connectivity for air passengers, procedural delays have come as a major hurdle in early completion. As things stand today, passengers will have to negotiate through traffic chaos for at least one year. The PVN Expressway is way behind schedule and is unlikely to be completed before May next year.
Apart from traffic problems, passengers will have to put up with confusion for at least a couple of months, till they get used to the fact that the airport had been shifted from Begumpet to Shamshabad. The GMR Group has made arrangements for passenger pick-ups but does not guarantee quick service as it cannot vouchsafe for free movement of vehicles. It's for the traffic police and the State government to act on this count.
If one leaves these initial hiccups behind, the facilities that are being offered
at Shamshabad are truly of world class. For the first time, the airport will have a real duty free shopping arcade. The retail offer in the international terminal will comprise a total of three stores, covering 2,500 sq mts. One of these stores is a 1,277 sq mts arrival store. Domestic retail will consist of three stores and a total of 310 sq mts.
Moreover, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport will have world class food and beverage counters in the arrival, departure areas and the airport village, a new concept being introduced for the first time in India. International brands like HMS Host, Blue Foods Private Limited, Café Coffee Day, Hard Rock Café and Cookie Man will be serving the passengers at the airport.
As the GMR Groups gets ready for the grand opening of the airport, several groups have advocated that the present airport at Begumpet could be utilised for domestic and short-distance services. Officials, however, point out that this is not going to be economically feasible and only add to the confusion of passengers. Those coming to Hyderabad from small cities to board international flights will have to face the additional problem of changing from domestic to international airports, 35 km apart.
The new airport, it is argued, has been developed keeping in mind the future demand of Hyderabad, which is all set to become an international hub in south east Asia. The present problems are just temporary and as the outer ring road and expressway become operational, the sailing, nay flying will be a smoother affair.

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