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BW Businessworld

A Shoddy State Of Affairs

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Phew! How many of you have flown through the new Goa terminal at Dabolim recently? I flew back on 22 June and was horrified at the shoddy state of the new departure terminal that was inaugurated with much fanfare on 5 December 2013.

To start with, the terminal looked like it had been around for at least 20-odd years. I know things like this ought not matter too much, but the carpet (in the security hold area) was filthy beyond belief (it made one feel as if a dirty rag had been placed there to start with; otherwise how was it humanly possible to dirty it so much in just six months!). Has no one from the Airports Authority of India (AAI) seen Ko Samui Airport, Thailand with its easy-to-maintain tiles? In hot, wet and humid weather, who needs this dirty carpet?

Garbage bins placed in the area were actually overflowing. There was some mumbling from the public announcement system, none of which was clear. Having heard horror stories about the toilets at the new Chennai and Kolkata airports, I didn’t have the courage to venture in that direction at all. What was worse, the security hold area looked largely unfinished. In parts of the granite flooring, there were metal tubes poking out of gaping holes and wires were dangling. In fact my 10-year-old kid tripped on one of the metal tubes but luckily was unharmed. Anywhere else in the world, the airport would have been sued for this kind of negligence. There were only two tiny shops in this area — one selling toys and the other some unappetising looking food.

Not only is the terminal poorly designed, I was appalled to find that there was no inline screening of baggage x-ray machines for check-in baggage? Which era does the AAI think it is in? Airline officials tell me that getting luggage out of the aircraft and onto the conveyor belts is a challenge in Goa, so badly designed is the system. In fact, special tow trucks have to be arranged for the luggage at an extra cost to the airlines.

If Goa is a shocker, Chennai and Kolkata are no better. In fact former civil aviation minister Ajit Singh told people openly that he was fed up with complaints from state ministers, MPs and even the flying public against these two new facilities.

The Kolkata airport — which looks grossly oversized for the volume of traffic it handles — has seen more than 170 of its glass panels shatter since its renovation. The AAI is yet to come up with any kind of explanation. After an inspection last year, the civil aviation ministry had announced its intentions to privatise the operations and maintenance.
Ever since it started operations, passengers have been complaining that the Chennai airport resembles a bombed out shelter, with half the toilets not working. Crazy flight announcements keep passengers on their toes; someone I know almost missed his flight — first they said his flight was four hours late and suddenly it was taking off!

But what’s worse, this new terminal seems shaky even structurally. In May 2013, the false ceiling at the security hold area had collapsed. This was followed in August 2013 by a collapse of the false ceiling in the check-in area following some “unexpected rains and heavy winds”. What happens now in the actual monsoon season?

If passengers are finding the new terminals shoddy, airlines are already fed up with what is on offer. Inline screening of baggage is non-existent at both the boarding gates, ramps are badly designed and the terminal buildings look incomplete. Airline officials say what they needed was “lower cost, efficient terminals” and not these “huge, white elephants”. Believe it or not, these two monstrosities cost the exchequer (and hence you and me) Rs 2,325 crore and
Rs 2,015 crore for Kolkta and Chennai, respectively.

Can anyone in his right mind argue against abolishing the AAI and privatising the building, operation and maintenance of India’s airports? Just take a tour of these two airports — and drop in at Goa while at it.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-07-2014)


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anjuli bhargava magazine aviation aai magazine 28 july 2014