Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Take off from a modern airport this year

The Mumbai Airport. (file photo)

MUMBAI: First, it was the turn of the Hyderabadis. Five years ago, they got a new spacious, glass-and-concrete airport with such novelties as green walls of plants. A few months later, the citizens of Bangalore rejoiced as the city raced Hyderabad to gift itself a new airport. Two years ago, just before the Commonwealth Games, Delhi airport threw open the sprawling and swanky Terminal 3 that did away with the old low-ceiling, replete-with-pillars, terminal of the past. This year, it is the turn of Mumbaikars to fly in style.

Around December, international passengers will move to T2, a brand new terminal that has been in the making for the last six-seven years at the foreground of the Sahar international terminal (see map below).

Described as the "most iconic development in recent times" by the airport operator, it will be far more spacious, aesthetic and convenient to use, what with more check-in, immigration and security counters that promise to shorten queues and cut stress. For one: currently only nine aircraft can dock at a time at the international terminal. The partially completed new terminal will have a capacity to handle 18.

"After the operations are moved, the existing international terminals will be demolished to make way for the southeast tier of the new terminal,'' said a Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL) spokesperson. By the end of 2014, the integrated terminal will be completed and will handle both international and domestic flights.

The new terminal will eventually have two arms or tiers - the southwest tier and the southeast tier - with aerobridges. Almost all flights will get an aerobridge and so the practice of using of coaches to transfer passengers will be over.

Meanwhile, meaningful alterations are being made in the present terminals to make the flying experience easier and pleasanter for all passing through Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (see graphic).

On the flip side is capacity constraint. Space-starved Mumbai can afford an airport that can handle only up to 40 million passengers every year. Even by domestic standards, it's not animpressive number. Delhi airport can already handle 46 million passengers a year; when fully ready, it can manage 100 million. Even Hyderabad airport, which handled only 8 million passengers in 2011-2012 as compared to Mumbai's 30 million (for 2012), will have the capacity for 40 million passengers when its final phase is complete.

In the global arena, Mumbai airport is petite when compared to say Al Maktoum, the behemothcoming up in Dubai. When complete, it will be able to handle 160 million passengers/year, four times the handling capacity of Mumbai.

Dubai's present airport saw a 13.2% increase in passenger traffic last year, making it the world's third busiest airport for international traffic. The largest chunk of its passengers came from India - 7.34 million, marking a 7.4% increase - mainly because Indians largely took a transit halt in Dubai when flying to different parts of the world.

"Even without a competitor like Dubai, Mumbai airport would not have emerged into a strong hub because of capacity constraints. Purely from a passenger point of view, living in a city whose airport is a major hub brings benefits. One gets the choice of flying direct to several destinations and can save on cost of air ticket and time as well," said an aviation consultant. "In short, in the coming years, the percentage of international passengers from Mumbai who transit through Dubai, Delhi to fly to destinations around the world will only go up greatly," he added.