Hindustan Aeronautics is going all way out to reopen its once-thriving airport in Bengaluru for civil commercial air traffic. However, the agreement between government and private airport operators bars opening second airport within 150kms radius, which may turn to be the bone of contention
Once again, RK Tyagi, chairman of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), has raised the issue of reopening the its airport in Bengaluru for short domestic flights, stating that most major cities in the world have two airports and the city will benefit by doing the same. It may be recalled that the civilian air traffic to HAL airport was closed in 2008 soon after the opening of Bangalore International Airport (BIA), which has now been renamed as Kempegowda International Airport (KIA). However, HAL airport has been serving the private charter flights and the Indian Air Force. It is also a very convenient location for the passengers. Tyagi has stated that because of this diversion of traffic to KIA , HAL airport has lost revenue of about Rs1,500 crore.
However, HAL’s plan to reopen its Bengaluru airport may lead to legal issues. Especially, according to the agreement signed between Indian government and Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL), no commercial airport can operate within a radius of 150kms from KIA. Noteworthy to mention, it is the same clause that is making it difficult to make the Bidar airport operational. Bidar airport is 141kms from Hyderabad’s greenfield airport, or within the radius of 150kms and facing several hurdles. So unless, the Defence and Civil Aviation Ministry comes together and sort issues amicably with private operators, the reopening of HAL’s airport in Bengaluru looks bleak. Tyagi, the chairman of HAL, had been citing examples of how London’s four airports and New York’s six airports have helped in economic progress, but there really need a bigger push at higher level to reopen the second facility at Bengaluru.
Meanwhile, a selected number of public sector units (PSUs) will be divesting this year and chances are that HAL, Bengaluru may go for a 10% divestment initially, which eventually will reach a ratio of 75:25 (government to public). Details of the proposal have not been made public yet.
In order to go ahead with the divestment plan, it was necessary to restructure the Board, which according to the HAL chairman, has just been completed and this will be effective from 1st April this year. The delay was due to the disclosure clauses, and this has been cleared by the competent authorities, who have "allowed the defence aircraft manufacturer to get listed like other PSUs, such as Bharat Electronics".
HAL has other ambitious plans on the anvil. This includes opening of integrated cyrogenic engine facility and the major project work relating to the manufacture of 108 French Rafale fighter jets. It may be remembered that this $22 billion order has been kept in abeyance for several years now due to work share issues. Whether HAL will wholly manufacture these fighters or to what extent various components will be made available by Airbus Industrie has been the bone of contention.
To sort all these out, the Airbus Team is expected in March and work may commence thereafter.
HAL's Koraput division, in Odisha which has just celebrated its golden jubilee, proposes to invest Rs4,530 crore to modernise its plant and machinery. This plant has been specialising in the manufacture of various types of engines, mostly Russian, and in overhauling facilities. Air Marshal Arup Raha, who recently visited the plant, stressed the need for developing the division as engine capital of the country.
In the meantime, it would be worthwhile reconsidering the issue of using the HAL airport for domestic air traffic, considering the establishment and growth of regional airlines that would be serving Tier II and Tier III cities. However, because of the importance attached to the Indo-French project involving Rafale fighter jets, this matter has to be reviewed with great caution and the availability of adequate land needs.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)