Consequently, there is a growing demand to let the existing HAL airport remain operational even after the new one starts functioning. The government's agreement with the promoters of the new airport provides for closure of the existing airport after the new one starts.
Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL), which will operate the new airport, has got the passenger traffic forecast wrong. BIAL's forecast figure of 10.1 million users by 2010 has already been surpassed by HAL airport, which is handling 10.5 million passengers. The passenger traffic is expected to touch 10.8 million by the end of 2007-08.
BIAL commissioned Lufthansa Consulting (LHC) in 2005 to undertake a revised traffic study given the explosive traffic growth at Bangalore. LHC's most optimistic estimates projected 10.1 million passengers by 2010. BIAL, more realistically, estimated that passenger traffic in Bangalore would reach 11.3 million in 2015.
"We will cross this mark a few days after the new airport opens, seven years ahead of expectation. The argument, therefore, is that given that every estimate of air traffic over the past several years has proved to be wrong by a significant margin, how can we ensure that BIAL can service the real demand in the city?" says Devesh Agarwal of Bangalore Chamber of Industries and Commerce (BCIC).
The BIAL projection shows a 12.45 per cent annual average growth between 2008 and 2013 in air passenger traffic. "Our projection of 26.26 per cent has become a reality now. BIAL is underestimating growth," he said.
Agarwal said the existing HAL airport should continue operations. "It is hard to conceive shutting down a working piece of infrastructure like HAL airport and then discovering that demand outstrips supply. Little can be done at that time," he added.
The IT sector, concentrated in the southern and western parts of Bangalore, has also been emphasising the need to keep HAL airport open considering the distance between Electronics City and Whitefield (in excess of 50 kilometres) and the new airport.
A public interest litigation filed in the high court seeking continuation of HAL airport is also coming up for hearing soon.
However, BIAL authorities said the airport was equipped to handle this additional traffic too. The airport will have 54 counters on the ground and first floors for checking in, booking baggage and collecting boarding passes within 15-30 minutes of takeoffs during non-peak and peak hours.
"Due to the delay in clearance for construction, we have combined the first two phases of capacity building in the terminal to handle 12 million passengers per annum as against the eight million in the first phase. Being modular, the terminal can be expanded over the next three-four years to handle 15 million passengers per annum from 2012," BIAL CEO Alfred Brunner told the media recently.
With separate gates for arrival and departure, the new airport will operate 30 flights per hour during peak hours, which are normally in the morning for domestic flights and after midnight for international flights.