[AI] Fw: Responses to Comments on the Bangalore Airport issue

pradeep banakar pradeep_banakar at yahoo.co.in
Sun Feb 24 10:47:59 EST 2008


Untitled Document
----- Original Message ----- 
From: Janaagraha Communications 
To: info at janaagraha.org 
Sent: Sunday, February 24, 2008 9:17 PM
Subject: Responses to Comments on the Bangalore Airport issue 





                                                




                    We have been inundated with feedback to the article - Grounded at the word go - authored by Ramesh Ramanathan in the MINT. The author has responded to this e-mail feedback, as detailed below.

                    Janaagraha intends to hold an online debate on this issue, bringing in the experts. Please indicate your willingness to participate in this debate by replying to this mail - stating, "Yes I would like to participate in this debate." Dates of the debate will be intimated shortly. 

                   


               

              Responses to Comments on the Bangalore Airport issue 


               

              I have received a lot of mails on the BIAL Airport piece. While many of the comments are supportive, there have also been several that raise questions (sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not so pleasantly!) about what I have written. Given the number of mails that I have received, I cannot reply to each of these individually, and so have decided to reply in bulk, collating all the questions that were raised. Broadly, these are listed below: 

              .

                1.. Since I have quoted technical points, but am not an expert on airport planning, how do we know that this is accurate? Should we not get an airport expert's view on this, or should we have another typical "Indian" debate of laymen pretending to be experts?  

                2.. Is a single runway really capacity-constrained at 10million passengers? 

                3.. Agreed that government hasn't done its job, but we citizens have also been asleep at the wheel. Why didn't I write about this earlier? 

                4.. There is a binding contract between GOK, GOI and BIAL. We cannot renege on this at the 11th hour 

                5.. There is little point in writing about the challenges. What are the solutions at this point? 

                6.. Do I have any hidden agenda in this, i.e keeping HAL airport open, or raising these issues for BIAL airport, that are beyond the public interest?


              1. Since I have quoted technical points, but am not an expert on airport planning, how do we know that this is accurate? Should we not get an airport expert's view on this, or have another typical "Indian" debate of laymen pretending to be experts? 



              Very valid point. Generally, when I write pieces that are outside my domain of expertise, I tend to do sufficient background reading and research on the material, and also quote these sources in the column. In this piece, I didn't do it, because the style of this article was a bit more personal, ending with an unusually negative tone for me.
              My technical guidance notes for these points have largely come from Devesh Agarwal, who is currently head of the Infrastructure committee for the Bangalore Chamber for Industry and representing BCIC on a platform we have created called Bangalore City Connect (see point 4 below). He has prepared a very comprehensive technical note on the Bangalore airport, comparing it to other airports not only in India, but also across the world. 
              As I understand it,while there are variations between experts on these issues (as there are in almost any technical issue) , there is broad agreement on the points that Devesh is making, especially since they are fact-based rather than opinion-based. This is why I have accepted his position, after many rounds of internal debate that several of us had with him.



              2. Is a single runway really capacity constrained at 10million passengers?There are many international airports that have 1 runway but manage much larger traffic volumes, so why should this be a constraint for Bangalore airport. 

              This is a technical/administrative issue that - as I understand - is determined by many factors, some of which I am listing below:

                a.. runway design
                b.. rapid access ramps (designed at a particular angle to the runway) for quicker access/exit from the runway to free it up for the next aircraft
                c.. Air Traffic Control equipment (under Govt of India)
                d.. Air Traffic Control personnel quality and quantity (under Govt of India)
                e.. regulations that govern the minimum time delays between takeoffs/landings (Laguardia airport in New York for example is at 30 seconds, while Indian airports are at 2 minutes. Its not easy to change this, because it's a function of air safety issues, which are in turn related to all the above issues, including ATC quality and quantity)

              There are apparently some technical constraints with BIAL's runway design which will constrain capacity, but even if these were not there, Indian airports will find it difficult to operate at the level of efficiency of international airports due to the other issues that I have mentioned above.

              3. Agreed that govt hasn't done its job, but we citizens have also been asleep at the wheel. For example, why didn't I write about this earlier, and wait until a few weeks before the opening of the airport

              There are a few responses to this point

                a.. generally, macro decisions like this are taken a very high level in govt, with little visibility to citizens.  Hence, we operate in an information vacuum, and therefore tend not to focus on them until the actual event is upon us.  Correcting this is only partly about citizens being more diligent, but also about having processes where government is more transparent and provides continuous updates, so that we are kept up-to-date
                b.. about two years ago, we at Janaagraha felt that it was important to have a common platform to address certain issues like the airport, traffic etc.  Together with CII and corporate leaders like Lakshminarayan of MICO, Kris Gopalakrishnan of Infosys, Reguraj of NTTF, we created this platform called Bangalore City Connect(BCC)  finally in August 2007 after a lot of effort of several months.  One of the first agenda items we took up was the airport.  Since October, BCC has made several representations to the Government of Karnataka about the airport issue, and has even discussed with BIAL.  We have tabled our suggestions under a 3-track approach as defined below:
                o Track 1: Keep HAL airport open
                o Track 2: Address the pressing short-term connectivity issues to BIAL
                o Track 3: Identify and plan the key long-term connectivity like Metro, dedicated highway etc in an integrated and intelligent manner
                      While there has been progress on Track 2, there has been no headway on Track 1.    
                      So it wasn't that we were completely asleep on this issue, but it still wasn't as
                      proactive as it could have been.
                      - I believed that it was important to allow the internal process of discussions to
                     continue and give it as much of a chance as possible.  In retrospect, I should have 
                     written earlier about BIAL, and the kinds of challenges we are facing.  This was a 
                     mistake.

              4. There is a binding contract between GOK, GOI and BIAL.  We cannot renege on this at the 11th hour

              While I completely agree that we need to ensure that we respect contracts that we sign, so that the credibility of government is established, and future private sector operators are not scared away from participating in PPP projects, there are a few points to note here.  This is not a simple "should we or shouldn't we" question, it's a bit more complicated than this, and requires some careful reading.

              The key question to ask is whether BIAL would be detrimentally affected by keeping HAL airport open.  This detrimental effect ideally needs to be measured keeping the date of the contract signing in mind.  The reason for this goes as follows:
                a.. BIAL signed the concession agreement in July 2004 
                b.. Given that running an airport will require capital expenditure and ongoing revenue expenditure, this money cannot be spent without a sufficient return on this investment 
                c.. In order to ensure sufficient return on this investment, several benefits were offered to BIAL, including land, tax concessions etc.  Included in these benefits was protection regarding minimum traffic at the airport, so that the resultant revenues would be assured. 
                d.. At the time of the signing, the traffic projections indicated that Bangalore's traffic volume would not be sufficient to accommodate a second airport within 150 kms, and ensure minimum passenger and freight volume to BIAL. 
                e.. Since the signing of the agreement, this last factor has changed dramatically, as I have mentioned in my piece, and as has been detailed in several technical reports 
                f.. One response to this data is to say: so what, it only means that BIAL will make more money for themselves given that the traffic volume is higher than what they had projected 
                g.. I am in agreement with this approach.  But what if we discover that BIAL simply CANNOT meet this increased demand? What do we do then? What if we have a situation where the city's only airport (BIAL) cannot fully service the demand of the city?  Given the data and the facts, this is not a hypothetical issue, in fact it is a central issue facing us now. 
                h.. The other side of this coin is: what if HAL airport is kept open, and the traffic projections will allow BIAL to get not only its original projection of traffic volumes, but even more than this because Bangalore growth is simply way beyond any projections.  Then, the government will not be reneging on any commitments, in fact it is ensuring that it has done everything to make BIAL viable 
                i.. This is the key question, because this is the public interest issue that is at stake.  By closing down HAL when BIAL cannot service the projected demand in the next few years means that we are forcing the public to suffer the consequences even when the private operator's interests are more than protected.  This isn't fair. 
                j.. We are even saying that we can even consider a system whereby BIAL can get economic benefits from HAL airport, so that its interests are also addressed, while public interests are protected
              5. There is little point in writing about the challenges.  What are the solutions at this point?

              See above points 3 and 4.  There is a lot of work that has been done on working on solutions.  I will get City Connect to post our 3-track solution, as well as ask Devesh if we can post his technical assessment note on the City Connect website for those interested in seeing it.

              6. Do I have any hidden agenda in this, i.e keeping HAL airport open, or raising these issues for BIAL airport, that are beyond the public interest?

              In a word, No.  




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