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A hub beginning to take roots

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The GMR Rajiv Gandhi International Airport has recently won the ‘Best Airport' tag in the 5-15 million passenger category. The Airports Cou ncil International has put this airport at the fifth place in the list of best airports in all categories
The GMR Rajiv Gandhi International Airport has recently won the ‘Best Airport' tag in the 5-15 million passenger category. The Airports Cou ncil International has put this airport at the fifth place in the list of best airports in all categories

K.V. Kurmanath

When the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) was inaugurated on March 14, 2008, it was a first on several counts for the Indian aviation sector and promised to become a true hub, also a first for the Indian civil aviation industry.

The first Greenfield airport with the longest runway of 4.26-km that could take a Code Faircraft with unrestricted payload capacity, the GMR Hyderabad International Airport took a cue from globally renowned airports and factored in the benchmarks hitherto not seen in Indian airports.

With major destinations in the Gulf, South-East Asia and SAARC regions just four-five hours away, the airport promises to become a global hub.

In India, it is just a couple of hours from all major destinations. It has a catchment of 7.5 crore people, with a sizeable number of peopling travelling to the Gulf, the US and Far-East.

The Greenfield airport envisages capturing of additional growth opportunities in the aviation sector.

The saturation of capacities and no space for growth in the top airports in the region are added advantages.

geographical advantage

Realising this geographical advantage of Hyderabad and the attractive offer on ATF, Air Sahara had made Hyderabad as its hub even as the promoters of the Greenfield airport had begun the construction work.

Conceived and planned early this decade that witnessed unprecedented growth rates in Indian aviation, the Hyderabad airport promised to emerge as a domestic and global aviation hub in a few seasons.

But it hit an air pocket a few quarters later as the global aviation industry was hit hard by the economic slowdown.

The airport soon realised that the slowdown might delay its plan for the low-cost terminal, its phase-II plan and its break-even point.

Aerotropolis

The all-weather airport, which has seen consistent growth in the international passenger segment despite the slowdown, has recently won the ‘Best Airport' tag in the 5-15 million passenger category.

The Airports Council International (ACI) has put RGIA at the fifth place in the list of best airports in all categories. The survey takes into consideration 34 different aspects of service to its passengers. As Dr John Kasarda, the aviation expert, predicted, the airport was to witness development of the country's first planned Aerotropolis. According to Dr Kasarda, a global airport would trigger economic development in a radius of 40-50 km as it encourages people to invest in manufacturing, hospitality, entertainment and services industries.

The slump in real-estate and the subsequent economic slowdown, however, slowed down the plans of several stakeholders.

An aerotropolis allows companies to summon their top executives from across the world, hold conferences in the hotels at a stone's throw away and send them back the same evening.

Manufacturers could offer global service centres there. They could collect the faulty goods, have them repaired at a service centre set up in the vicinity and deliver them back to customers.

Foreseeing reduced demand for space, several stakeholders have either postponed or cancelled their plans to invest in the auxiliary services. Novotel, however, has set up a star-hotel abutting the airport. The fly-over connecting the city with the airport too was commissioned, making it simpler to reach the airport. GMR, the promoter of the airport, says its plan for developing an Aerospace Park, the notified Special Economic Zone, adjacent to the airport is well on its course.

“Our priority is to build airframe, engine, and component and defence MROs (Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul) in the park. It would also house facilities to manufacture components and sub-systems by the original equipment manufacturers and their suppliers,” a GMR executive says.

The park would also have an aviation academy, design, engineering and technical support services.

As it emerges a major passenger hub in India, the airport develops huge capacity to become a hub in the cargo segment too. GMR joined hands with Menzies Aviation Plc (the UK) to set up the joint venture company Hyderabad Menzies Air Cargo Pvt Ltd (HMACPL) to run the cargo terminal.

With two ground handlers (AI-SATS and Menzies-Bobba) offering services with no slot constraints, the cargo terminal has 6,000 sq. metres of warehouse space and offices of statutory authorities such as Drug Controller and Plant and Animal Quarantines.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 3, 2010)
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