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Bangalore's new airport: help or hindrance?

Posted by: Manjeet Krpalani on May 15, 2008

On May 23, Bangalore’s new international airport will be open for business. It’ll be swish and modern, for sure. Built by a consortium that also built the Zurich airport, plus Siemens and India’s best infrastructure project company Larsen & Toubro. Cost $625 million.

Flights from all over the world will no longer land at the crowded, shabby old HAL airport, in Bangalore city. They’ll come into this swanky new facility on the outskirts of the city.

Those who are rejoicing should take pause.
For the commuter’s pain is about to be exacerbated, not relieved.

First, the drive into Bangalore from the new airport will be 35-km long and last over an hour. That’s nothing compared to cities like Bombay, where it could take an hour and a half. But Bangalore’s existing airport is five minutes from the city and that helps enormously in alleviating the pain of investors and businessmen already fed up with Bangalore’s infrastructure constraints and maddening traffic jams. An extra commuting hour is extreme torture. Add that high-priced ride to your high-priced hotel room.

Second, the road from the airport to the city isn’t a good one. The politicians were so busy making money buying the land around the new airport they all forgot to build a proper road. So may be the commute in will take two hours instead of one, once the traffic and chaos get under way.

Third, it’ll cost you more to land at the new airport - about $17 more for domestic passengers, and $25 more for international. That’s priced into your ticket. It’s not much, you’ll say. But for Indians - and most of the traffic in Bangalore comes from within India - $17 is a lot. Especially because air traffic has increased due to the emergence of low-cost airlines. Lots of young entrepreneurs and their families flying those airlines into Bangalore, will chaff at the $17 - especially if their air ticket cost $62. And that taxi ride into Bangalore - that’ll cost upwards of $25. Some new buses are being introduced with cheaper fares - but it’ll take two hours to Bangalore.

Fourth, let’s talk about congestion. When the airport was planned several years ago, it was to accomodate the 12 million passengers who will fly into Bangalore by 2012.
Chuck that number out. Bangalore already has 12 million passengers flying into its local HAL airport. And it’s growing by 42% a year. By 2012, it’ll be 22 million.

Okay, you’re saying, that’s 12 mil for the new airport and 10 mil for HAL airport. Great, it’ll be comfy.

Nope. Because HAL airport is being shut down.

The investors will want their money back.
Even if it’s at the cost of other foreign investors and ordinary Bangaloreans.

That's one of the terms under which the new airport was built. No other airport, just this one. A nice little monopoly for investors including the Karnataka government.

So all those expecting a reprieve from the congestion, well, don't.

Citizens groups went to court, seeking a stay order to stop HAL airport from being shut down, so that the city can have greater capacity, and citizens needn't be harassed by a monopoly. Isn't that what reform is all about? Breaking down those monopolies, bringing in competition?

The high court agreed, and asked the state government and the ministry of aviation to renegotiate terms with the investors of the new Bangalore airport. But who's to negotiate? Karnataka is in the throes of an election, there's a vaccum in the state till then, and the new Bangalore airport folks say all's well, in fact they're inaugurating early, on May 23, instead of the planned May 28.

Ramesh Ramanathan, who runs a highly credible civic forum called Janaagraha, and who sits on the Prime Minister's Urban Renewal Mission, says concerned citizens can't even move the courts to look into the matter because the Karnataka High Court is in recess - summer vacation - till May 26. By then the new airport will have begun business, HAL will have shut down, and the increased constraints on passengers to Bangalore will have begun. He worries terribly that Bangalore's citizens will suffer, and that "business will simply be diverted to other Indian cities because Bangalore will have become a nightmare."

Reader Comments


May 16, 2008 12:05 PM

I believe Bangalore's citizens should turn their criticism towards the Karnataka government rather than on the BAIL. The new airport has not come out of thin air in a day, if government really had any concerns about the citizens of Bangalore, the government could have provided the necessary infrastructure for easy commute. They had plenty of time to do that. Deve Godwa and his family have become a curse to Bangalore and Karnataka. The citizens have a chance to change the government this election, I hope they utilize this opportunity.


May 16, 2008 2:02 PM

Why wasn't the new airport built with a metro or even people mover system to downtown Bangalore?


May 16, 2008 4:28 PM

It will be very interesting to see what the newly elected State Government will do regarding the new airport. There is a lot of money invested into this project. Bangalore has always been known for its hospitality and tolerance. I am waiting to see how this new airport with newly trained totally inexperienced staff brought from around the country, contribute to this amazing city of the south. Time will tell. In fact, worsening traffic and bad infrastructure might actually help Bangalore. How? May be, I am speculating here, may be the companies that came into this beautiful city, might finally start leaving. No company came in to improve the city. They all came for the gold rush, or shall we say, the silicon rush. And now since they have suck all the life and beauty from Bangalore, it may be time for them to leave. I pray for the day when Bangalore will become the same serene and beautiful city it once was, before it became the largest dumpster for silicon junkies from around the country. Wishful thinking ha!


May 16, 2008 4:49 PM

The only solution is to immediately start expanding the new airport and complete the planned rail/metro connection from the city to airport.


May 16, 2008 5:34 PM

How are the people who built the airport supposed to recover their investment if they do not charge the passengers for using the facility. The airport is not being built by the government. It is being built by a consortium whose primary motive is to make a profit and it is justified as long as it is resonable and i beleive it is in this case.

The statement "That's one of the terms under which the new airport was built. No other airport, just this one. A nice little monopoly for investors including the Karnataka government." is blatant and false. There is a similar airport that was built and is currently operational 300 miles away in the city of Hyderabad with the almost same concession agreement, and the existing airport in Hyderabad which was also in the center of the city was closed. Both these airpots did not fall out of thin air nor did the situations. Everyone involved in these projects knew well in advance about what the situation would be when the airports open, its not fair to change the terms of the agreement once the money has been spent and the infrastructure has been built. Please stop being socialistic in a captalistic environment and do some research before writing a coulumn. I expected better of Businessweek and i am very dissapounted with the quality of this article.


May 16, 2008 11:20 PM

Dear Sudharshan,

Thank you for giving an opportunity to explain the reality.

The painful truth of uprooting 1 million farmer families in the name of IT, BT infrastructure, just to generate a few IT jobs, the central government has misjudged & intervened to select the current upcoming International Airport location by discarding HD Devegowda’s opinion and without proper compensation / teaching survival skills to the farmers. This could lead to either farmer’s suicide or growth of anti-social elements.

At this critical political junction, nothing could be more important than protecting farmer’s interest since 80% of the jobs are located in the farming sector in India and with the current severe food crisis in addition to environmental disasters. CM H.D Kumarswamy has done his best to provide infrastructure to the city, which I have heard the appreciation by the CEOs of MNCs.

Grabbing land from the innocent farmers showed the special interest of Delhi politicians to make money from Karnataka as other states didn’t permit these politicians. It is also worse than what China is doing to its citizens. People are completely out-of-touch with the ground reality due to Indian mass media miscommunication. It is insane and anti-intellectualism to complain about the “supporter” of the innocent farmers. Ex-Prime-minister, H.D. DEVEGOWDAJI and his family is a God-gift to Karnataka people.


May 16, 2008 11:51 PM

"Isn't that what reform is all about? Breaking down those monopolies, bringing in competition?"
---give us a break. First, creating another airport is not "reform". Second, how many cities in the world have two passenger airports within a distance of 35km.


May 17, 2008 12:55 AM

I agree with Mr. Sudarshan, BIAL is private company accountable to its shareholders. You cannot blame BIAL for the failure of the government. Sadly, the informed IT leaders's of Bangalore (like Mr. Mohan Pai and Ms. Mazumdar) do not seem to understand two simple facts 1) When you look at Airport traffic you should look at peak/hourly traffic rather than the total, BIAL should be OK from this aspect for two years 2) How can BIAL raise another round of funding to start expansion if they cannot show their exisiting shareholders a ROI.
I wonder how either of them would react if they were running BIAL (heck these IT leaders still want government sops to tide them over). I also wonder how a great industry leader like Mr. JRD Tata have reacted to this situation- he proabably would have quitely built a road and handed it over...Sigh.


May 17, 2008 1:13 AM

I will not worry myself with the traffic jams. Why? Because India is the richest country in the world. We don't need road. I'm sure we all can afford to have helicopters to take us from the airports to city centers.


May 17, 2008 8:32 AM

I really think the whole deal was not very transparent, they pulled out the "User Development Fee" at the last minute and the citizens of Bangalore and all users of the airport are getting a raw deal. BIAL seems to be calling all the shots including exclusive deals with limo/taxi operators.

One of your readers Madhukar is obviously a syncophant of the Deve Gowda family, It is common knowledge that Deve
Gowda 's family is corrupt to the core and therefore a blot on humanity. Karnataka has headed downhill under their administration.

There is no hope for India unless the thieving, corrupt politicians are locked up and the keys thrown away.


May 17, 2008 9:41 AM

india is garbage. lol, 1 new building built every year.

Vinay Urs

May 17, 2008 10:28 AM

1. Regarding your comment, "the road from the airport to the city isn’t a good one", have you ever been on that road?
That road is NH7 which connects Bangalore to Hyderabad. The roads are fabulous(six-way) roads from Hebbal Circle all the way to the airport(about 30 kms stretch).
Really silly reading these comments from folks who have never even been on that road.

For reference, please go through these articles:

Jayanagar to international airport in 64 minutes

From ITPL to Devanahalli

A very long but NICE route

From Electronics City, it was slow going in parts

Taking the longer route helped


May 17, 2008 11:15 AM

It's the nature of progress that it's always incomplete. It's not unusual to find faults and remainders in any project. However progress means advancement within whatever constraints one has-political, economic, corruption,heat and sloth and traffic jams. They will all be ameliorated in the next step, but then other issues will come up.Biggest mistake will be to not move forward out of fear of not accomplishing a perfect result. Openness about what is lacking, possible problems, and what needs to be done is healthy for a society. Name of the game is solve your problems as and when they come.

Jay Narayan

May 17, 2008 11:45 AM

This is a case of collaboration betyween international capitalism in its true form and politicians in the name of development. The opening of the new airport should have brought relief to the travellers by adding extra capacity to meet the demand as projected. Consumers welfare and benefits is enhanced only in an environment of fair and heathy competition, not through monopoly.


May 17, 2008 1:11 PM

The government has grabbed enough land from farmers. It is not a big deal commuting 20 miles to the airport as the world passengers commute minimum 20 miles to their airports. 20M passengers commuting 2 hours to reach airport is not a hectic job when the farmers have lost their livelihood. These days business can be done and people can be reached (through e-mail, tele/video conference etc.,) sitting at their offices. It seems 80% of the travel is unnecessary or for recreation. People need to reduce their unnecessary travel. Employees are creating unnecessary travel just because companies are spending money.

Affordable apartment/houses can be built using HAL land for the farmers and homeless instead of retaining one more airport. IT companies are acting like real estate agents without creating more middle level jobs for the locals.

- Is there a single Indian company which owns their product?
- Don’t we copycat products from foreign companies like IBM, CISCO, INTEL etc.,.?

Brilliant people should concentrate on inventing new products and owning them than fighting for airports, roads and luxury.


May 18, 2008 12:53 AM

Well, here again is an example of India's consistent failure to plan and execute.

It's a shame China gets lumped with India in the US lexicon these days. They are worlds apart. Check out a Chinese airport. Any Chinese airport. They are matching the best in the world. Along with the roads to them.

Raj Sundar

May 18, 2008 2:59 AM

Irrespective of the motives behind closing the old airport, operating two airports is not good for the consumers. Lets take the case of a passenger flying in from London to Mangalore via Bangalore. Would it be ideal for the person to disembark at the new airport and go all the way to the old airport for catching a domestic flight ? That's insane. People will have to understand that this growth has a cost and the government should think of improving connectivity and reducing congestion


May 18, 2008 6:54 AM

i would agree that all governments starting my the H'ble Mr. Deve Gowda's government, have done little with regard to urban planning. I have seen bangalore unfold from a sleep town in the 90's to the crazy town of the 2000's. the people of karntaka have got what they bargained for. a city, where everyone is out to make a quick buck. Someone has to pay. Unfortunately, it will the common tax paying citizens.


May 18, 2008 7:43 AM

This is a poor article. Rather than complaining about BIAL, why don't you write an article about Karnataka's utterly useless political class? Specifically (a) why the airport is over 10 years late; (b) a detailed investigation to find out how much land the families of leading politicians own near the new airport; and (c) hard-hitting interviews with useless, venal politicians like Deve Gowda and Ghulam Nabi Azad to find out why they were not able to use their high offices to secure infrastructure development.


May 18, 2008 8:57 AM

Once again the inability to plan and execute the construction of new infrastructure demonstrates India's big weakness in the 'competition' with China. China would probably have built a magnetic levitation train service from the new airport to the city like in Shanghai, or at least a high-speed airport express train service like in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, India is still stuck in the bullock cart era. The other thing the Chinese have going for them is the periodic crackdowns on corruption, something unheard of in India. Frankly, it is no contest. The Chinese have won and will continue to be ahead of the Indians for the foreseeable future.


May 18, 2008 10:32 AM

"Ex-Prime-minister, H.D. DEVEGOWDAJI and his family is a God-gift to Karnataka people"..Wake up Madhukar, the man and his family is sucking the remaining life out of Karnataka.


May 18, 2008 1:19 PM

Well these whole protest drama is sheer greed of IT majors who have built crores on ordinary people money. Mr Narayan Murthy was on management of BIAL. Everybody in IT industry was aware of terms of new airport. everyone use to compalin about HAL earlier. suddenly they realise because new airport is away from there office means it is bad for bangalore people. Not a convising arguemement Mr Pai and Ms Mazumdar. as someone rightly said, had Mr. Tata confronted with same situation, he would have built road on his own. but your personal greed would not allow you to spend for public good. you only need sops from people of Karnataka.

Vinod Bellikoth

May 18, 2008 11:22 PM

Additionally, all the IT business is centered around east and south Bangalore. So the new airport in North Bangalore is far-far away from the ones who will fly most frequently. Anybody working in electronic city wants to fly to Chennai ? Better drive directly.

Sandeep Rao

May 20, 2008 5:43 AM

How can you say its a hindrance?? Its the best airport India has got. Where else in Bangalore can a new airport be built?? on the terraces of homes?? of course connectivity will be a problem, but unless there is a need, Govt will not do anything. Central Govt. is making Delhi into a world class city just for some stupid common wealth games, when it was asked to build a rail link project in Bangalore it simply refused. Why blame only state Govt.? Bangalore gives 33000 crores as income tax every year and major part of it goes to central Govt. In return Bangalore always gets no from it. On closing HAL airport, well no private company will invest so much money and reduce profits, how can some one decide which is short haul and long haul for domestic flights in a country as small as India. HAL should be renovated and can be opened once BIAL exceeds its capacity, which is not a long time from now.

Pawan Shishodia

May 23, 2008 1:38 AM

Ahh!! Can anybody please explain to me why we have to PAY "User Development Fee"!!!

I am paying thousand rupees of TAX on the name of so called "Development" of nation..
and whenver they do it..they put "toll" and "UDF" !!.

Then why i am paying TaX?? to fill the pockets of these politicians??

Santosh Raj

May 27, 2008 2:35 PM

well!! better services always come with a price tag!!. Atleast 2 cities in India, Hyderabad & Bangalore can have good airport infrastructure .. And the connectivity will improve over time . (Note: Though the airports are built by private consortiums , the original ideas were mooted by the government , and the connectivity plans r taken up by the State Govt.. which always take time in India..) .so for the time being one has to bear with it.Moreover the services at the airports are quick &user friendly.So one can't complaint much . BIAL has done a great job!! As far as congestion predictions at these airports are concerned , thr r enough plans done to take up the subsequent phases.

Yeshwanth Gowda

May 27, 2008 4:33 PM

With more power comes more responsibilities, You know democracy will move slowly but surely you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If anyone thinks its a hindrance they are either jeleaous or not capable of handling pressure. We sustained enough trouble without an International Quality airport and flights for 60 years. This development fee is nothing when we have to caugh up $200 for an connecting flight to Bangalore from either Bombay or Delhi.
Let think positive, This will opening flood gates for development like aerospace industry, hotels, infrastructure, last but not least more jobs, New flights, Hub to some airlines and much more. Lets enjoy the ride.

Yeshwanth Pai

July 29, 2008 12:21 PM

Now that the BIA-airport is opened up and the traffic is at its deadly best, things seem to have been accepted by all and sundry as a reality .
Crisis of different kind:
But what is still to come in the next five or ten years is the ecological desaster that faces the area around the new International airport. This being basically a gray area does not attract much precipitation/rainfall and the mindless exploitation of the land around it could pose a nightmare far worse than anything known in Bangalore.
It may not be too late yet for the new Govt. in power. Just go ahaed and create a huge artificial lake in the vicinity of the airport and fill her up with extra water from KRS duirng the rainy season-water which anyway is superflous in rainy season- and then forget not create a hge green belt right around the lake with walkpaths and jogging strips like another Lalbaugh away from Bangalore.Ensure that this is free of all kinds of traffic except perhaps bicycles. Rope in the private companies if funds are a deterrant. They will only be too glad to help. But for heavens sake dont take the help of land developers.
So long as Devegowda and his ilk are away from power this could well be done. So hurry up....


July 30, 2008 6:08 AM

Very nicely written article. I myself have used the new airport a few times now and can relate to all that is written over here. I fail to understand why any government would force a monopoly upon itself, unless there is some kick-back from under the table. HAL airport is there but cannot be used!? what a waste of resources.

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