Bangalore’s Airport/Traffic Woes

Bangalore’s much-awaited new airport is finally opening this week, though the supporting infrastructure around it isn’t yet ready, according to the New York Times:

The way things stand now, the trip to the new airport, 21 miles outside town, will easily take 90 minutes from the city center, and even longer from the software companies that have turned Bangalore, also known as Bengaluru, into India’s own Silicon Valley.

India’s famously sluggish bureaucracy has meant that workers are only now scrambling to finish widening the main road to the new airport. The city water supply has yet to reach the area, making it impossible to begin construction on the shops and office towers that are supposed to sprout around the airport. Even though airport officials were ready to open on schedule, in March, air traffic controllers said they needed more time to train. Late Wednesday, airport officials said they had been told by the government to postpone the opening by one day, to Saturday. (link)

The words “famously sluggish bureaucracy” are, of course, de rigueur in any article on public works in India, a little like travel writers mentioning the heat. It’s a truism that is so true, it sweats.

In this case, though, it’s not just the government that has bolloxed this up. The airport was actually built and designed by private shareholders (including Siemens), who have operated under the assumption that the old airport, closer to the city center, will be closed once the new aiport opens. But given the incredible growth in the demand for air travel in India (and in Bangalore in particular), the new aiport may not be big enough after all, and the group Bangalore City Connect is calling for the old airport to remain in operation in parallel with the new one. I think that makes sense — why throw away an existing facility?

And of course there is a controversy around widening the road to make an expressway from the city to the airport. One elderly man, quoted by the Times, is clearly furious about the plan to displace him from his bungalow for the project:

One lawsuit holding up the expressway project concerns D. M. Dwarkanath, a retired executive of a state-owned company. He risks losing his small bungalow to make way for the route. A hospice for children with AIDS is also threatened.

Such cases have sown deep resentment among many people here, who wonder: Why do people have to make way for India’s frequent-flying classes, which are still relatively small? “It is only for the rich people,” Mr. Dwarkanath said fuming. “They don’t have patience. They want to rush to the airplane. They want to sweep everyone out of the way. Why should we live? Sweep us into the sea!”

I sympathize with Mr. Dwarkanath. That said, “only in India” would we hear about the opening of a fancy, state-of-the-art airport — with no way to reach it!

35 thoughts on “Bangalore’s Airport/Traffic Woes

  1. Just to point out, having two airports will mean having to choose which flights go where. This will cause some brain scratching (or shall we say under the table activity) especially when one is closer to the city than the other. Unless of course you just make the old one purely domestic and the new one purely international or some such.

  2. Mr. Gopinath is in favor of keeping the old airport open. Even so, starting Saturday he will offer a helicopter shuttle for commuters. It will cost about $100 and take 10 minutes

    Pretty soon “Fifth element” in B’lore ?

  3. 2 · Bridget Jones said

    Mr. Gopinath is in favor of keeping the old airport open. Even so, starting Saturday he will offer a helicopter shuttle for commuters. It will cost about $100 and take 10 minutes
    Pretty soon “Fifth element” in B’lore ?

    Oops the correct/better link to “Fifth element

  4. Why is it not a surprise that the article is written by Somini Sengupta, I am not disputing the problems in Bangalore but get a load of this gem:

    A high-speed bus route in the heart of Delhi was lambasted recently for pinching into car lanes, and no one, including the cows, seemed quite sure of which lane to use anyway. Several other major projects are behind schedule and mired in graft, including a new national highway.

    I see the problems in Bangalore similar to other growth problems, once the airport is fully functional everything else will fall into place. I am sure these issues were there few decades back in developed countries.

  5. I think that makes sense — why throw away an existing facility?

    I agree. The one thing I remember reading repeatedly is that the new airport needs the revenue from the landing fees to keep operating profitably. Letting the old airport going would siphon away the revenue. So maybe the state can broker an agreement where they can keep the old airport running and use the landing fees from that and transfer it to the new airport so that the new guys don’t lose the revenue. It is very incovenient for domestic travelers to go to Devanahalli. For example, the flight to Chennai takes a half hour on a jet. If they have to go 2 hrs to Devanahalli, go through security check etc., they might as well take the train instead. So my proposal is to keep the old airport open for domestic flights and transfer the landing fees/revenue over to the new airport. Maybe also charge the individual passengers a usage fee to keep the old airport going.

    In the US, most city center airports are considered very convenient and closing them would be met with an outcry – think LaGuardia, Reagan National, San Jose Mineta etc. Why throw away a convenient city center airport in Bangalore?

  6. I’ve flown into the old bangalore airport – and it isnt like any ‘downtown’ airport in north america. a close comparison would be the old hong kong airport which was actually an extremely hairy experience.

    the old bangalore airport used to be on the outskirts of the city, say 10 years back. The city just grew around it. now it sits inside a commercial area and next to a golf course. you all those morality plays you read about saying the money is root of despair – well… bangalore is living it today. but i suppose this is what london was like in late nineteenth century – on the cusp of societal change, with all the birthing pains equivalent to squeezing out a spiny jackfruit out of the ass – the creamy texture of the fruit notwithstanding.

  7. Keeping both airports open, where one is much closer to the city, is a recipe for disaster. See: Montreal, Mirabel. You could split it into domestic/international, but then all those direct Kingfisher flights internationally will have horrendous connection times between the two airports.

    I like the idea of keeping the old airport open for LCCs, and short domestic flights. But anything else, and for a city of this size, you more or less guarantee that the new, shiny and expensive airport, will be a failure.

    Ideally they’d have built that train line, and expressway, in time for opening the new airport (which looks nice)… humara india, right?

  8. I recently flew in and out of Bangalore on domestic and international flights. It’s a genuine mess… as bad as I’ve seen anywhere in the world: 1. No proper place to disembark. 2. Hordes screaming drivers the moment you come out of the airport. 3. Unpaved roads where the taxis park. 4. No organized queues. 5. The usual assortment of beggars, swindlers and dogs while you wait for your driver to pull up his car. 6. A foul waiting area.

  9. Ummm jackal@7 and umberdesi@4

    These problems are not isolated to developing countries. Does anyone remember a time when JFK was not being modernized?

  10. 5. The usual assortment of beggars, swindlers and dogs while you wait for your driver to pull up his car.

    ever tried being a little low-key? we’re as beggar-y as the next in the right circumstances.

  11. To umberdesi, Yaaawn the “liberal” NYT takes a “cow-caste-curry” swipe at India again. Typical of the “liberals” in the US. I guess we are not protected species in the “liberal” temple….yet. To quote: does NYT hate India, does a bear $rap in the woods?.

  12. hope he reads friedman too. btw, he taught at the u of chic, home of the philosophical foundation of the neocon movement: straus, bloom, wolfowitz as well as the constituion in exile movement. perhaps this is the real secular madrassa to which kerrey was referring.

  13. ever tried being a little low-key? we’re as beggar-y as the next in the right circumstances.

    This coming from Mr. Spiny-Jackfruit coming out of the posterior?

    Ever had multiple wild dogs start sniffing you up while you wait amid a foul dirt road yards from the airport exit ramp with your colleagues? Memorable, but not pleasant.

    That’s Bangalore airport…

  14. and yet my flight next week was still routed through mumbai to the old HAL airport. . . perhaps a blessing in disguise

  15. This coming from Mr. Spiny-Jackfruit coming out of the posterior?

    Dont speak to me. I am feeling very righteous right now. I am done undressing my bandages. will sit down and ponder under a dark cloud with Ms Sinister Oatmeal.

  16. fancy, state-of-the-art airport — with no way to reach it!

    Ever heard of the Green Line in Yell A?

  17. As someone who last flew into Bangalore Airport three years ago – I suspect things have not gotten better. Cochin Internation Airport and Bangalore International Airport were both approved by the Cabinet on the same day in the mid 1990′s. Cochin Aiport has been running smoothly since 2000. Cochin had an aiport close to the city that has since been shut down. the new Airport had some teething problems but things are much better now. Last time I flew in, it took me all of 10 mins to get into a taxi from the time I landed. Thanks to the Gulf NRIs for making an airport happen. Should they keep the old airport open – yes I do. Should the owners of the new airport wear the loss of revenue. Yes, I have no sympathy for the BIAL consortium. They have been bickering for ages. If they had got their act together ages ago, this issue would not have arisen.

  18. Sounds like the same story as the Hyderabad airport ruckus when I was there in April. There is no reason that it should take someone over two hours to get to the airport from the city center. And the same story in Bangalore. Corruption as usual in India. What’s new?

  19. The Bangalore and Hyderabad airports (old) are now smack in the center of the city. That is a lot of land worth a lot of money. Apart from the fact that private groups running the new airports have an assurance that the old shall be closed in order for them to make money from the new, the parties in control of the state govt. see the old airport land as cash cows that will provide them the milk & honey. I won’t be surprised if parts of it are auctioned off periodically.

  20. They could follow the Sao Paulo model in Brazil with Congohas for domestic and Sao Paulo International for international flights. Like Brazil I’d be worried about safety (more than running out runway room).

    The traffic in Sao Paulo is as bad as anywhere… both airports took hours from Itaim Bibi/USP area.

  21. Would the Software Companies and others who are against the closure of the old airport agree to a Reduced Contract value from their overseas clients after completing the assignment ??

  22. 5 · JM said

    I think that makes sense — why throw away an existing facility?
    In the US, most city center airports are considered very convenient and closing them would be met with an outcry – think LaGuardia, Reagan National, San Jose Mineta etc. Why throw away a convenient city center airport in Bangalore?

    WHY THE OLD ONE MUST BE SHUT DOWN…

    1) it would decongest inner-city roads which is a major cause of terrible traffic and even worse pollution THUS bettering quality of life 2) it would promote more outward growth in bangalore towards the airport, especially along the expressway 3) it would allow the new airport to make more profit, thus increasing the overall quality of it 4) it would allow HAL lands to be used for other purposes 5) it would be in line with the agreement the government signed with the private party; leaving HAL open VIOLATES their agreement

  23. The problem with the old airport is that it was and is a glorified rickshaw station. I had the honor of going through it recently and had to marvel at the ability of AAI to maintain it’s squalor. I mean how do they keep it so shabby? As a research experiment, I actually swept some garbage out of the way in the terminal and watched. Lo and behold, one of the airport karamchari comes out and tells me it is illegal to clean any part of the airport. Ok, he did not tell me in words. He simply proceeded to spit a big blob of paan at the very spot I had cleaned, and looked at me with those big eyes — essentially telling me what I put in prose in the previous sentence.

    Truth be told, we (as in india) does not deserve an airport. I say, we build rickshaw stations instead. I do not mean this in a derogatory way. Rickshaws are a great means of transport. On a personal note, I should add that I have a particular affinity to this human powered transporter. Seeing the horror that my primary and secondary school grades routinely turned out to be (Mr. K., your son has again scored a rank of 30 in a class of 31), my father was convinced that I was destined for a life of pulling rickshaws. Come to think of it, that day may yet come.

  24. Why don’t the celebs (Kiran Shaw included) show how they can get our elected reps accoutable for the connectivity to an airport that has been 4 years in the making? Prove you can get the main job done well, rather than get in the way of progress

  25. I flew into the new Bangalore airport on the 1st day of its operation. It took me 4 hours to get home after the flight landed…phew! The aerobridge and ladder took quite a while to arrive and properly connect and then the luggage arrival was another story. One good thing was the customs guys didn’t even bother to rescan the baggage and let me just walk through. And also There weren’t the usual pushy baggage assistants who used to rip off some money whether you needed help or not. The taxi guys in this area also seemed to be less pushy. The ‘Vayu Vajra’ shuttle bus seems to be a good option to get to the airport.

    I was not that impressed with the facilities in the new airport. For something that was built recently, they could have added some more facilities like the Changi airport.

    The old HAL airport used to be a clean and less crowded one when i was a kid. That whole area used to be sparsely populated and green, and getting to the airport and parking the car used to take just 10 min.

    The devanahalli airport and the area around it would definitely become crowded very soon ..esply at the rate bangalore is expanding. I guess lack of water supply is one thing that is stopping from office, hotels and other things to crop up around it. For now I enjoyed the view of large stretches of green fields while the plane landed.

  26. I too flew into the new airport on the first day of its operation. Construction is still going on outside of the main building. The terminal itself could have used a good wash in preparation for its first day of operation, and fit and finish, while typical for Bangalore, could be a lot better, if one is to be picky. But all in all, quite impressive-it is a modern terminal-and that it was functional on the first scheduled day (there were nine flights that arrived close in time to mine) is creditable. It took me an hour+ to get into town (Malleswaram) by bus. But all the delays were the usual heavy city traffic. The highway ride was quick. It was obvious that the bus driver was getting used to highway driving-he would honk incessantly if there was another vehicle on the road, even if it was a mile away on a different lane.

    This morning, I took the domestic flight to Bombay. It took me 25 minutes to get to the airport, and 10 to be checked and through security. Wonderful airport experience, and not just by India standards.

    They really should was the place, though, and somebody obviously cut corners buying a PA system for the airport. Announcements were unintelligible.

  27. Can any one tell me from mumbai to Bangalore Domestic flight where it will go whether new airport or old

  28. There is only one airport now, the new one at Devanahalli called BIAL. It is supposed to be well-connected to major points in the city through volvo busses that are reasonably priced. The old airport has been closed to all public traffic.

  29. I wonder if and when there will ever be a train connection to the airport. It would be a much better option, and would greatly reduce traffic.

  30. I wonder if and when there will ever be a train connection to the airport. It would be a much better option, and would greatly reduce traffic.

    That would take too much forethought. We’re only good at repairing the tracks the Brits left us. This issue with traffic into the city center is no surprise. People were wondering aloud about this as soon as the location of the airport was announced years back. Getting access rights from property owners (eminent domain) is next to impossible.

  31. I recently flew in and out of cochin airport. It was an enjoyable experience. It is neither big nor small and efficient enough. The approach roads are better than the national highway. The duty free was small, cheap (well cheaper than Heathrow)and sufficient ( It had the usual ferrero Rochers and Chivas Regal). The minor problems were made by the passengers ( if we don’t form a que, drop off vehicles parked where ever they want for as long as they please and jostle whenever a crowd is formed there is not much point in complaining about the management of the airports). So perhaps what our airports need (along with long term vision) is proper crowd control.

  32. Cochin airport was the worst I had ever been to. The building looked odd and the crowd suffocating. Looked like most of them are workers to Gulf countries and what more to tell. Maybe I would suggest Chennai or Trivandrum airport which is better than Cochin.

    Bangalore new airport is pretty good than the old HAL except for the long distance. For international flights, the travel time to the airport doesnot matter as the ambience is good.

  33. Hmm I just can’t understand why John K said that Trivandrum airport is better than Cochin..He might be blind..Cochin aiport is far far and much better than Trivandrum airport..It is huge when compared to TVM and also flight options are the best in Kochi..One has to waste one day for flight back to Mumbai from Tvm..It is rural and connectivity is worst in tvm