Page last updated at 07:43 GMT, Sunday, 8 June 2008 08:43 UK

Bangalore airport faces early upsets

By Shilpa Kannan
Business reporter, BBC World

Bangalore airport
The airport's capacity caters for the fast growth in air travel

Cars slow down and families pose for pictures at the new multi-ring flyover outside the massive steel and glass structure that is Bangalore's new international airport.

The $625m airport has become the latest attraction in town, a swanky new facility created in a joint venture involving Siemens Project Ventures, Larsen and Toubro, Unique Zurich Airport, the Karnataka State Government and the Airports Authority of India.

Compared with the old Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) airport, which was built to handle just 2.5 million passengers but was handling close to 10 million, it is a giant leap ahead - and one that is urgently required.

India has the fastest-growing number of passengers in the world with a number of budget airlines entering the market and bringing air fares down.

The country's airports handled more than 90 million passengers in 2006 compared with 68 million the previous year.

To keep up with the growing number of passengers, newer airports are being built all across the country.

Large capacity

The Bengaluru International Airport is among the many projects that the government has outlined to improve the country's poor infrastructure.

I'm sure it'll get much better
S. K. Pal

The Civil Aviation Ministry has set a target of having 500 operational airports in the next 12 years.

This will include expanding existing airports, redeveloping unused airports and building brand new airports.

Billed as a solution to the chaos, the new airport in Bangalore is spread over 4,000 acres and can handle some 2,500 passengers an hour.

As you walk in through the doors, there are no X-ray machines to screen the bags.

Instead passengers can walk straight to the check-in counters to get their boarding cards.

After the security there are food plazas, shopping centres and even a bar.

Long journeys

But casual visitors are not allowed inside the airport, largely because of security fears.

Bangalore airport
Getting to the airport can take hours

Soon after it opened, many families could be seen standing outside the glass walls peering inside.

But even though the airport boasts of world-class facilities the passengers are not happy.

Many complain because it is tricky to get to the airport; travelling from the city to Devanahalli on the outskirts of Bangalore will take at least 45 minutes and could take a couple of hours, depending on where in the city you are driving from.

From Electronic City, where most of the information technology companies are based, it took one passenger, SriLatha Kumar, three-and-half hours to drive here.

Frustrated at the long commute, she said her flight to Mumbai would take less than 90 minutes, which meant getting to the airport made up the bulk of her journey.

Early birds

It is a familiar problem in Bangalore.

Bangalore airport
Delays were frequent soon after the airport opened

The city is often brought to a standstill by traffic jams that can last for hours.

While the airport is up and running, the planned infrastructure to connect it to the city is still a few years away.

Meanwhile, the uncertain traffic picture means some passengers become so worried about arriving too late that they arrive very early instead.

Rajeev Raghunathan, an engineer from a software firm in London, reached the airport six hours before his flight, only to find it was delayed by two hours.

After having spent the better part of his day in the airport he was impressed with the facilities but was regretting taking a short-haul flight.

"I have wasted a whole day of work," he says.

"I simply couldn't miss my flight so I decided to come to the airport early.

It cost him 650 rupees ($16; 8) to get to the airport in a cab, compared with less than a third that price to the old airport.

"It's a fantastic airport- really world class - but I wish it would be easier to get here," he says.

Teething problems

Bangalore's citizens have bemoaned the overstretched HAL airport's facilities for years.

By offering this world-class facility, the city had hoped to boost its economy.

As a thriving IT centre Bangalore is flooded with multinational companies - and their employees, who are frequently flying in and out of the city, welcome the airport's arrival.

Yet teething problems, with long delays, have upset many during the early period after its opening.

"I have begun to hate flying anywhere," bleats IT worker Shailesh Kumar, 34, who flies at least three times a week on business.

"I have to leave my home hours ahead to make sure I make it through the city's jammed roads and once I reach here I just pray that I make it to my flight in time."

But others make good use of their time at the airport, heading for the shops.

SK Pal, who was travelling to Mumbai, couldn't find his boarding gate as there had been no announcement made.

While upset that his flight was delayed, he said: "Everyone is saying how international this airport looks - they have spent a lot of money on it. I wish they would train the staff a little more in making clear announcements.

"But these are just teething problems. I'm sure it'll get much better."

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