Feb 15, 2011
60 and Going Strong....
60 years ago on December 21, 1951 with the arrival of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, in Mangalore, the Bajpe Aerodrome, which has now graduated to become Mangalore International Airport, was commissioned. The airport has come a long way since then and is now celebrating its diamond jubilee this year, which is no doubt a moment of great pride for all Mangaloreans. The airport has been instrumental in facilitating the economic development of this port city. The airport which has been operating international flights from 2006 onwards has been awaiting the tag of international airport status, which may take some more time to get materialized.
The length of the second runway at Mangalore airport is 8038 feet whereas the availability of a 9000 feet runway is a pre-requisite to upgrade the status of the airport. After inaugurating the new terminal Praful Patel had announced extension of the runway and after the gruesome air crash tragedy of May last year, it was reassured that the runway would be extended and it would also take into account the required spillover area in case of emergency. The paper work in this regard is under process. Another distinctive feature of Mangalore airport is that it is one among the three airports in the country to have table top runways, the other two being Kozhikode and Lengpui in Aizwal, Mizoram. The table top feature of the airport had come in for severe criticism after the air crash tragedy of last year.
60 years is indubitably a major landmark in the chequered history of this airport and Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), which played a prominent role in the establishment of the airport has chalked out a series of year long programmes to mark the diamond jubilee celebrations, aimed at the development of the district. The inaugural function of the celebration was supposed to be held on February 4, 2011, to be attended by then Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel. However, with Vyalar Ravi becoming the new Civil Aviation Minister, it proved to be a non-starter. KCCI has now invited the new minister Vyalar Ravi and if everything goes well the celebrations will take off on February 27, 2011. Considering the Union budget on 28th February, one has to keep the fingers crossed on whether the minister would make it on that day. But KCCI is bent upon inviting the minister to kick start the celebrations on any convenient day.
KCCI expects the active involvement of local industrialists, traders and leaders in the hospitality and tourism sectors to give a impetus to developmental activities here. The KCCI once again coming forward to play a stellar role certainly augurs well for Mangalore International Airport, which faced lot of flak and criticism following the gruesome air crash in May last year.
Airport Director M R Vasudeva, the man who strived to bring Mangalore Airport to the present status, speaking to daijiworld said “though Airport Authority of India is not chalking out any programmes to mark the diamond jubilee celebrations, we would certainly join hands with KCCI and the citizens of Mangalore by participating in the various programmes they have planned to mark this event”.
60 years back war hero and retired Wing Commander Vonthibettu Prabhakar Hegde flew Jawaharlal Nehru on his first ever flight to Mangalore Airport, then known as Bajpe Aerodrome. There was no runway when the first aircraft landed at Bajpe as digging and leveling of the hell to build the runway was in progress. Nevertheless, Nehru’s landing on DC-3(Dakota) at Bajpe itself is considered as the commissioning of the airport. Dakota aircrafts are small with a seating capacity of below 40 and till 1983 only smaller aircrafts like Dacota could be landed in Mangalore.
In 1983 a runway (5330 feet) was set up and this enabled the landing of Boeing 737-sized aircrafts, having a seating capacity of about 110 people. The status quo continued till 2006 when the new runway of 8,039 feet was opened and the Bajpe airport was declared as Customs Airport, which paved the way for operating flights to international destinations from the airport. Mangalore became the first airport in Karnataka to have a concrete runway and also to have two runways. On 3 October 2006, Air India Express flight 802 from Dubai became the first international flight to land at Mangalore Airport.
Though AAI had asked the Karnataka Government in 1989 itself to acquire necessary land for the expansion of the airport, it was only in 2003 the land was acquired and given to Mangalore Airport authorities. A compensation of about 22 crores was spent for land acquisition and rehabilitation of the displaced persons. Only after the land acquisition was done the work of the new runway and the NITB took off at a lightening speed.
The concrete runway was completed within a record time of two years and once the runway became operational top priority was given for establishing the new integrated terminal building, at Kenjar, where the NITB is now located. As a result the distance to the airport from Mangalore is reduced by about 6 kms making it convenient for people to travel to the airport. With Mangalore Airport opening its doors to international flights, the New Integrated Terminal Building (NITB) became a necessity and work was started on accomplishing it on a war footing. The NITB built over 70 acres of land has a capacity to accommodate four A310 class and a A321 class aircraft at a time with provisions to three more aircrafts to be added if required.
After facing several hiccups, the NITB constructed at a cost of Rs.148 crores, was inaugurated on May 15, 2010 and was thrown open for air traffic in July 2010. NITB is built on modular concept where future expansion, if needed is possible. There are about 35 airports in India built on this concept and Mangalore is one among them. It became fully operational from August 2010 and the services were completely shifted from the old airport at Bajpe to the NITB. The new terminal provides a comfortable and convenient ambience to both the passengers and visitors and more spare for airlines, their staff and better facilities and space for passengers at the lounge and the lobby. With the NITB becoming a reality a major hurdle was overcome in upgrading the status of the airport. The opening of the new terminal building was a dream come true for the people of coastal districts and the neighboring state Kerala.
Increased Passenger Traffic
M R Vasudeva says at present Mangalore International Airport is handling 32 flight movements a day and 42 international flights per week. The passenger traffic has rose from 2.77 lakh in 2005 to 8.5 lakhs for the year 2010 and going by the current trend it is going to be even more in the coming years. About 1000 passengers can be handled at a time at the NITB. The initial shortcomings were overcome and it is now equipped with two aerobridges and has provision for adding one more in the future. It is designed to separately handle domestic and international passengers.
But the airport has to quicken the second and third phase of development and also expansion of the runway that include installation of an arrester system and creating the mandatory buffer zone at the end of the runway is undertaken in a phased manner. Extending the runway by 1000 feet is yet to start as it involves acquiring another 50 acres of land and an expenditure of about Rs. 200 crores, says Vasudeva. “Extending the runway necessitates filling up the valley which is 45 meter deep. Filling 1 sq meter of the gorge requires Rs. 200 which is quite a lot of money. If the enlightened citizens of the costal districts come up with necessary finance the work can be undertaken immediately. We have instances of local citizens shouldering such responsibility in Cochin, Calicut and Cannannore airports. KCCI, which is the voice of the people has come forward with some proposal and we are ready to extend all possible help”, Vasudeva states.
Vasudeva says that at the moment Mangalore does not have that kind of air traffic to have Jumbo aircrafts, which might become necessary when SEZ becomes a reality and the city braces up for new economic growth and industrial development.
It is believed that the old terminal at Bajpe will be handed over to the Coast Guard for handling cargo. The Kanara Chamber has now taken up the mantle of giving a new impetus to the growth of the coastal districts and in its scheme of things according international status to Mangalore airport is on top of the agenda. Chamber President G G Mohandas Prabhu had said that there is scope for handling cargoes such as vegetables, fruits, processed food and other items from Mangalore and the space at the old airport is convenient for this purpose. KCCI is directing its efforts in maximizing the connectivity advantage enjoyed by Mangalore to boost developmental activity in this area.
KCCI’s Four Demands
KCCI President Mohandas Prabhu says that the chamber will place four demands when the Civil Aviation Minister is going to come for the inauguration of the diamond jubilee celebrations. “Our demands include extension of the runway by 3000 feet, the tag of international status to Mangalore airport, the airport to be named after Ullal Srinivasa Mallya and also the setting up of the Air Cargo Complex. We have also planned many event spread over the year to mark the diamond jubilee celebrations of the airport. We have chalked out a series of programmes aimed at improving the infrastructure facilities keeping in mind the all round development of the coastal districts”, Mohandas Prabhu asserts.
Mangalore international airport is certainly raring to go if the Civil Aviation Ministry accedes to these demands of KCCI, which are . But considering the financial stakes involved and with AAI having precedence of local partnership in the development of the airports, it should not be a difficult task to comply with these demands.
In the meantime the work of the second and 3rd phase at the NITB needs to be undertaken with full gusto. While the airport in toto looks swanky and in tune with the international status, some attention needs to be given for keeping the surrounding area clean. The area behind the airport canteen is littered with all sorts of plastic and other waste which presents a very bad picture of the place. Let us hop the concerned authorities take due note of this.
With the bad memories of the worst plan tragedy behind it, the airport needs to give priority for safety measures. It is believed that Mangalore would come under the centralized radar operation system would be effected within 8 to 10 months. Even Bangalore international airport does not have Area Control services, which Mangalore has because of Mangalore’s geographical strategic location. Among the 11 centres in India Mangalore airport is one which provides area control service to the aircrafts overflying Mangalore Airport (DVOR).
The Mangalore Airport has provided enough stimulus to the growth of this region. Let us hope the Airport in its new avatar is going to strive for greater role in the economic growth of this area in the future too.