March 13, 2008

Hyderabad's new airport on the fly

The stage is set for the inauguration of India's first world-class greenfield airport at Hyderabad built in the public-private partnership.

United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi will Friday inaugurate the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad, about 30 km from the city.

The new icon of this IT hub will be unveiled at 4.30 p.m. in the presence of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, Andhra Pradesh Governor N.D. Tiwari and Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

The project has been completed six months ahead of the schedule and is being opened a couple of weeks before the inauguration of the new airport in Bangalore, which is often described as Hyderabad's competitor.

It was Gandhi who had laid the foundation stone for the airport March 16, 2005.

The airport, which has many firsts to its credit, will commence commercial operations from 0001 hrs Sunday, and all operations from existing airport at Begumpet in the heart of the city would be shifted to ten new airport..

Built at a cost of Rs.25 billion, the airport is being billed as India's first truly world-class airport, offering facilities on par with those at Oslo, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore airports. The developers claim this project would take Indian airports to a new era.

The airport, which has come up on 5,000 acres of land, has 4,260-metre runway, the longest in South East Asia.

The airport has been built by GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL), a joint venture in which GMR Infrastructure Limited holds 63 percent, Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad 11 percent, Airports Authority of India (AAI) 13 percent and the Andhra Pradesh government 13 percent.

Designed to handle 12 million passengers in the first phase, the airport is expected to make the city an international hub on par with Dubai and Singapore and a cargo hub of Southeast Asia.

The ultimate capacity of the airport is 40 million passengers a year and one million tones of cargo annually.

The non-polluting airport has 100,005 square metre glass encased terminal, which promises natural light to passengers. The seven-storey passenger terminal building has been built by the China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong).

It is also the first airport in the country to have no demarcation between international and domestic terminals, making passenger movements easy. It also has a unique airport village with commercial space where passengers can meet their friends and relatives.

The airport has 70-metre-tall Air Traffic Control (ATC) with the state-of-the-art equipment, a world-class cargo terminal, 42 aircraft parking stands with 12 aero-bridges and 30 remote parking bays, 60 check-in counters with Common User Terminal Equipment (CUTE) and 16 self check-in kiosks.

The airport will incorporate the novel 'aerotropolis' concept on the lines of Seoul, Munich and Hong Kong international airports, housing hotels, commercial centres, hospitals and residential quarters.

A business hotel has come up in the airport promises by Accor with Novotel brand. More hotels, commercial projects and a convention centre are planned in the second phase.

GMR-led consortium has chosen the best companies in different sectors for building and maintaining the facility.

However, the new facility is not free from controversies.

Its launch is preceded by a strike by AAI employees at the existing airport who are opposed to handing over a profit-making airport to a private company.

A section of passengers are worried over the time they would have to spend in travelling to the new airport, given the distance and lack of proper connectivity. Some feel it might take two hours but developers claim it will not be more than an hour.

The user development fee (UDF), which the private developers have been allowed to levy on passengers, is another dampener. The developers, for the time being, have spared the domestic passengers but $25 will be collected from every international departing passenger. The UDF may also be levied on domestic passengers once the connectivity improves.

The low-cost airlines are also keeping their fingers crossed as the passengers to domestic destinations within Andhra Pradesh and also to some southern cities might prefer trains if the travel to the new airport becomes more time-consuming and tiresome than the flying time.

Some pilots and crewmembers are is also wary of discomfort in covering a long distance to reach the new facility. Since most of them reside in Begumpet, which has good educational institutions and hospitals, they are reluctant to shift to a new place.

The new airport has also generated a political controversy. The main opposition Telugu Desam Party has threatened to disrupt the inaugural ceremony to protest the naming of the new airport. They want the airport to continue with two names.

The Begumpet airport has international unit named after former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and domestic terminal after TDP founder and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao

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