Only VVIPs Yaake? Opening The Old Airport In Bengaluru Would Be A Win-Win For Everyone

Sharan Setty

Jul 10, 2024, 02:38 PM | Updated 04:58 PM IST

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited old airport in Bengaluru
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited old airport in Bengaluru
  • The demand for a second airport in Bengaluru is rising. But there already is a second airport — only if it could be kick-started.
  • Let's face it, nobody enjoys driving to Bengaluru airport with a flight around the corner. Despite Google Maps specifying a journey time, it usually takes longer, especially during peak hours and monsoons.

    But the situation was different just a few years ago. Bengaluru roads had much less traffic, the information technology (IT) boom was still in its infancy, and the airport was in the city.

    Airport Within The City

    After setting up Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) with the support of the Maharaja of Mysore in the early 1940s, the British drew up a plan to build an airport in the city as it already had a functional runway for test flights.

    Once the Second World War ended, the facility was used by the Indian Air Force and HAL. Thereafter, commercial operations began, with civilian aircraft taking off from the city. (The airport boasts a rich history, and those interested can learn more.)

    Then-chief minister H D Deve Gowda flagged off the first scheduled international flight, and prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, later in the 1990s, inaugurated the international terminal once the airport was upgraded.

    Then came the demand for a world-class facility. The city's population was rising fast, too. The lack of space around the airport for further expansion meant that a new airport had to be built.

    That is when the present Kempegowda International Airport was envisioned and later inaugurated.

    Can Old Airport Take Off?

    After the new airport was operationalised, the use of the old airport in Bengaluru was limited to defence purposes and the movement of very, very important persons, or "VVIPs," as they say.

    As per the agreement signed in 2004 with Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL), the old airport had to end all commercial operations.

    It also stated that no new airport within 150 kilometres (km) of the current one can open until 2033.

    BIAL was offered the job of managing the HAL airport, but they were swift to decline, citing revenue-sharing disagreements.

    Also, the tarmac is owned by HAL, while the Airports Authority of India (AAI) manages the terminal.

    If the distance clause were omitted and BIAL were to sign off on it, there could be a threat from Tamil Nadu. The neighbouring state's government has proposed a new airport in Hosur, near Bengaluru's IT hubs.

    However, Hosur cannot legally host an airport as it falls within a 150-km radius of the new airport.

    BIAL may also fear a decrease in footfall and, subsequently, a reduction in revenues if the old airport were to become operational. Perhaps for this reason, they have decided not to entertain this idea until passenger capacity exceeds current levels and further infrastructure expansion at the new airport is no longer feasible.

    It makes sense, but the late Manohar Parrikar was one of many who desired to see the HAL airport open for civilian flights. His statement of support faced opposition.

    HAL has suffered losses, with the number of daily flights decreasing from 360 in 2008 to barely 50-60 at present. AAI has also incurred losses.

    But Parrikar believed that BIAL would not incur much of a loss, as the number of people taking flights was shooting up constantly.

    The idea remained on paper, and the Ministry of Civil Aviation under Ashok Gajapati Raju reacted sharply against the idea of violating the clause.

    However, the HAL airport was able to manage 30 movements per hour and 10 million passengers a year before its closure in 2008. It had a 3,307-metre (m) runway — one of the widest in the country — capable of handling even Boeing 747s.

    But this issue can be amicably resolved with political will, and the old airport can breathe new life.

    Passengers can fly out happy, at least for short distances to cities like Kochi, Coimbatore, Chennai, or Hubballi. Anyway, at present, a passenger probably spends more time travelling to the new airport than the total flight time required to reach a nearby destination.

    Alternative Airport For IT Hubs

    Ever since the IT boom took off in Bengaluru, the city's population has drastically increased, especially in the eastern pockets like Marathahalli, Electronic City, Varthur, Whitefield, Krishnarajapuram, Mahadevapura, and Hosakote.

    The travel distance from these areas to the new airport is significant. If the HAL airport was open too, the travel times would be greatly reduced for most of those aforementioned localities.

    The new airport in Bengaluru is located far away from most residential areas and is not accessible by metro yet. One has to take public transport or a cab, which may prove expensive for many.

    Of course, add the infamous Bengaluru traffic jams into the equation, and you end with passengers occasionally missing their flights.

    For all these reasons, and to serve the rising numbers of passengers, the demand for a second airport has increased.

    While the Government of Karnataka is deciding on a location (it could be Ramanagara, Tumakuru, or Channapatna — the lobbying is underway), it makes sense for the airport authorities and the government to explore all possible means of opening up the old airport for short-distance flights to nearby cities and states.

    Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.

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