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Hyderabad airport promises 'Nawabi experience'

December 22, 2007 10:12 IST
Delhi and Mumbai may have made hasty temporary arrangements for the mammoth two-decker Airbus A380s to land exhibition flights earlier this year. But it is Hyderabad that will have south Asia's first A380-compatible airport, which begins commercial operations on March 16, 2008.

The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, the first of India's airports to be operational under the public-private partnership model, will also have the longest runway at 4,260 metres (to Delhi's 3,810 and 2,813 metres and Mumbai's 3,345 and 2,925 metres), a two-level passenger boarding bridge and a 90-metre conveyor belt for luggage.

The airport, for which 90 per cent of the work is complete, is a 63:11:13:13 joint venture between Hyderabad-based infrastructure group GMR, Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad, the Andhra Pradesh government, and the Airports Authority of India.

It is located in the extreme southern suburb of Shamshabad and replaces the down-at-heel but central Begumpet facility that has served this city for more than seven decades.

In a sense, this shiny new airport, being built at a cost of Rs 2,478 crore (Rs 24.78 billion), will be a potent symbol of the explosive growth of this laid-back city into a major IT business destination.

The growth in passenger traffic through the crowded Begumpet tells the story. Over the past two years, passenger traffic has grown at 40 per cent each year. In 2006-07, Begumpet handled 5.95 million passengers (4.75 million domestic and 1.2 million international).

The airport currently handles more international flights (11) than domestic ones (8).

The sprawling Shamsabad facility will be equipped to handle 7.2 million passengers in the first year. By fiscal 2011, the number will be 12 million passengers a year, scaling up to 40 million in the final phase, which will begin once annual passenger flows cross 20 million.

The corresponding figures for cargo handling are 1,00,000 tonnes and 1 million tonnes respectively.

So what's in it for passengers? Officials of GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd (GHIAL), the company implementing the project, promise a "Nawabi experience".

This includes 130 check-in counters and 46 immigration counters (against 37 check-in and 14 immigration counters at Begumpet).

The 1,00,000 square metre terminal building will have 30 escalators and 32 elevators. There will also be conference facilities for business travellers, hotel facilities, a hospital and integrated information technology systems - in short, all the mod-cons expected of a global standard airport.

The retail area, meanwhile, is uniquely designed on the walk-through concept that enables customers to move from one shop to another without having to walk in and out of shops. 

Its parking area can accommodate 3,000 cars (against 500 cars at the Begumpet parking lot).

However, for a Hyderabadi who lives in the heart of the city, driving to the new airport, over 30 km from the central business district, may not be a "Nawabi" experience. From midnight of March 15, he will have to  travel 25 km farther than the distance between his residence and Begumpet.

To be sure, the city authorities are widening access roads to Shamsabad,  building an elevated expressway and laying out an outer ring road.  Multimodal rail-road connectivity is also being considered.

But by the time the airport begins operations, the elevated expressway will still be under construction and a significant portion of the road-widening will be completed only at the end of 2008. And the multimodal rail-road   project will still be under planning.

This means that the journey to the new airport could take one to two hours, depending on the traffic.

GHIAL is aware of this access problem and will initially introduce 75 airport shuttle buses to ferry passengers from 15 designated locations in the city. The buses will operate at 15-minute intervals during peak time and 30-minute intervals during non-peak time. The price per trip is expected to be below Rs 100 per passenger.

"The airport shuttle bus service will have facilities like Wi-Fi, a vehicle tracking system, food and beverage services so that passengers' drive to the airport is a stress-free and an enjoyable experience," promised GHIAL chief financial officer Rajgopal Swami.

Whatever the arrangements, the days of jumping into an auto-rickshaw and rushing to the airport in the nick of time are over. Indeed, some  Hyderabadis feel they would prefer to catch an overnight train to short-haul destinations like Chennai, Bangalore or Mumbai - all three main stations are within 6 km of the business district - and limit a journey to Shamsabad for trips to, say, Delhi or Kolkata.

Ch Prashanth Reddy in Hyderabad