"I am the happiest man in the world". That is what Albert Brunner, chief executive officer of the Bengaluru International Airport Ltd (BIAL) said after throwing open the new international airport at Bangalore in the early hours of Friday. The first flight winged its way to Singapore.
After a series of protests and court cases, Bangalore, the IT capital of India, finally got a full-fledged international airport at Devanahalli, 31 km away from the city.
A security blanket was thrown at the airport throughout the day to ensure that the launch went off smoothly. The first flight to land at the airport was the Air India IT 609 from Mumbai at 10.40 pm.
As per plans, a Jet Airways flight was to land from Mumbai at 9.45 pm, but it had to be rescheduled thanks to the Election Commission's stricture which said that no flight could land in the new airport before 12.01 am on Saturday.
However, a concession was given to the Air India flight that landed as the same aircraft was to leave for Singapore at 12.05 hours.
Describing the airport as world class, Sunil Vashisht, the IT 609 Air India pilot said he encountered no problems.
Eshwar Paul, Air India's pilot, which took off to Singapore, termed the moment "the proudest". He said that he was privileged to fly the first flight out of the new airport.
The Jet Airways flight, which was to land at 9.45 pm on Friday, landed at 12.36 am on Saturday.
Albert Brunner, who could not stop smiling, said that he was the happiest man in the world. He added that everything had gone on as per schedule and he was happy the way things shaped up finally.
The passengers at the airport looked enthused. Lauding the space, they said the HAL airport was congested and the new one came as a relief.
The entire inaugural show went on smoothly, barring a minor hiccup at the check-in counter, where the staff faced some technical snag.
People had to wait for some time before the problem was sorted out.
The lead-up to the inauguration of the new airport was tense. The day began with several rounds of protests in various corners of the city to keep the HAL airport open as it is widely believed that this airport is more convenient in terms of distance when compared to the new airport.
Then it was the hearing at the Karnataka High Court, where a petition sought a stay on the inauguration, saying the government had failed to provide the required infrastructure before sanctioning the airport.
The high court heard the matter for nearly four hours and the go-ahead order came barely four hours before the opening.
The court also made it clear that the HAL airport would remain shut, but also added that both the government and the BIAL could re-negotiate the matter. The court granted 12 weeks to do so.
Though the airport is a relief for several passengers in terms of space and facilities, the major complaint is about the road leading to the new airport.
The proposed 6-lane carriage way to the airport at Devanahalli is yet to get underway and passengers complain that in peak hours it is "a never-ending journey".
The staff at Electronic City say they have to travel almost three hours to reach the new airport during peak hours.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chief Executive, BIOCON, said recently that authorities should keep the second airport open as the new airport alone would not be able to handle the demands of the growth of industries in Bangalore.
The excessive travel time to the airport has prompted the likes of Captain Gopinath to offer helicopter services to the new airport at $ 100.
He says the travel time will just be 10 minutes by chopper.
The government, meanwhile, claims that an airport cannot be situated in a place which is convenient to everybody.
Authorities say from Vidhan Soudha, which is at the heart of the city, it takes less than an hour to reach the new airport even during peak hours.
However, BIAL claims it is not feasible to keep the old airport open and also a delay in the opening of the new airport cost them $250,000 a day.