Will the new-look Chennai airport deliver?

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 28, 2013 11:45 hrs

After months of delay, Chennai airport's new terminal was thrown open last week, with quite a few amenities still missing.

Last year, the airport was ranked 153rd out of 156 airports in Asia in Airport Service Quality survey, a ranking that the airport would want to better. Ironically, in 2012, work on the Rs 1212 crore new terminal was completed, giving the city a post modern facility, with the stylish steel and glass structure.

Thus making a statement that it was ready to fly into the future. However, a lot of on-ground facilities failed to take shape in tandem, causing a delay in the launch of the terminal. Clearly, full scale operations are still a bit into the future, with the terminal currently catering only to passengers arriving on inbound flights. Departure services at the domestic terminal are yet to be commissioned.  

Sources say that the authorities are working towards a faster implementation and are targeting a two week window to launch departure services. They also concede that facilities are likely to be stop gap for a little longer.
As things stand, the launch of the international terminal appears to be further down the road. Experts say that Indian airports generally lag behind, when compared to global norms.
“Most airports do not have an instrument landing system or a radar approach, resulting in delays,” they said. Chennai airport, boasting an approach radar, is considered to be among the more technically safer airports. The new domestic and international terminals were envisaged as a way of enhancing the flying experience.

From its inception, the renovation has been bogged by delay. 

Envisaged in 2008, the contract was awarded in 2009, with the expectation that the works would be completed by 2011. However, it was not until 2012 that the terminal was completed and a few more months would be further lost in trying to fix other kinks, like the checked-in baggage arrival facility.

The new terminal is designed in such a way that all baggage can be handled in the huge basement, which in itself is as wide as the passage terminal on the ground floor. The baggage is unloaded and transferred to the ramp which would convey the luggage to the passengers waiting a floor above.

Experts say this is in keeping with international baggage handling system. The efficiency of this system hinges upon battery operated vehicles instead of fuel based ones. Sources say that individual airlines had not factored in such a requirement. 

The problem has been resolved by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) after it appointed Bhadra, an agency with expertise in ground handling services, as the baggage handler for a period of three months.

Concerned airlines, whose flights land at the new terminal will have to make arrangements for their own battery-operated baggage carriers within that time frame.

Experts say the sheer volume of passenger traffic has been a huge challenge. Over 8 million passengers used the domestic sector in 2012, and half that number used the international flight services operating out of Chennai. Nearly 330 aircraft fly in and out of Chennai every day. It is estimated that in the coming years the volume of passengers is expected to increase steeply and experts say there is an urgent need for services to be in place.

The new terminals do not have a cafeteria and other facilities one takes for granted in other airports.

Sources say that authorities are working hard at delivering these facilities. “Franchisees have been asked to opt for pre-fabricated cafeterias and they are also looking at long term food and beverage outlets,” the source added.

By the end of the year, you may have a choice of coffee and croissant menus, but if you think you can pick up international clothing or other brands, you may be in for a disappointment -- sources say that might take a year or two. Until then you can consider yourself well served if your baggage awaits you on the conveyor belt as you walk out, instead of having to wait for long.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist

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