Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru (ANK)
Mangaluru, Apr 19: J T Radhakrishna has been serving as the director of Mangaluru International Airport since November 2012. Hailing from Ananthpura, Andhra Pradesh, Radhakrishna joined Indian aviation in 1993 as manager of engineering department. He is the winner of Best Engineer Award for successful planning and implementation of the new terminal at Mangaluru airport in 2010. He has also served in Calicut and Coimbatore airports.
Radhakrishna spoke in an exclusive interview to daijiworld editor-in-chief Walter Nandalike on Daijiworld 24x7 channel's 'Public Challenge' programme.
Q: We have been witnessing a significant increase in passenger inflow every year at Mangaluru airport. But, there has been an increase of only five per cent this year. What is the reason for decline in passengers?
A: A few of the flights have been cancelled this year. Bengaluru runway which is not in operation from the past three months has led to cancellation of flights. Two flights of Air India were affected as only one runway was operational.
While the inflow of passengers was 16.75 lac last year, it was 17.5 lac this year. The figure will grow and I am confident that it will cross 20 lac.
Q: Being the director of an airport is a huge responsibility. The director is blamed if anything goes wrong even in customs or immigration. Mangaluru airport stands 12th in the country in passenger inflow. A lot of negative comments are being heard about Mangaluru airport. What exactly is going on?
A: There are allegations of immigration officers harassing the passengers. Problems are being experienced in cases of NCR, NCER, ECR passports and date changes in visas. There are certain restrictions for passengers travelling with ECR passports. Problems occur when there are no proper documents with the passengers. Otherwise, there is no problem at Mangaluru airport.
Even if there are a few cases, it does not mean that the entire blame has to be put on the airport. There are no such serious problems regarding harassment of passengers. There are only a few minor issues with one or two passengers in relation to documentation and tampering of passport.
Q: There is an allegation that the passengers fear customs officers who look each and everyone, at NRI passengers, suspiciously. Someone even complained that officers see every passenger as gold smuggler, is this true ? What is your say on this?
A: The customs commissioner recently notified about the rules and regulations, and restriction on goods for NRIs. Everything is clearly mentioned. You need not fear anyone if you follow the rules and do not indulge in any offense.
Q: Do you think there is a need for improvement in the attitude of customs staff?
A: We have brought a lot of changes in the last two years. The customs staff has been trained on how to behave with passengers. We are looking forward to further improvement in their behavior. Passengers' problems will be brought to the notice of the commissioner and will be redressed at the earliest.
Q: What is your opinion on having a better duty-free shop to attract international passengers?
A: Earlier, the duty-free store was small here. But now we have increased the space. Duty-free shop is set up at departure and arrival area with varieties of goods.
Q: E-visa facilities have been initiated for foreign nationals due to your efforts. But there is no proper lounge for the passengers. There is no business class lounge either. What is your view on this?
A: Yes. There are plans of having a business lounge in Mangaluru airport. Space is the main problem here. The model is ready and will be implemented after consideration.
Q: Indigo Airlines will start operations from May 1 here. Any direct flights from Mangaluru to Gulf countries in future?
A: We had a discussion with officials. They have assured us that 2-3 flights will be made available for Gulf to shortly.
Q: Could you update us on the expansion of the runway?
A: The present runway is 2,450 metres long. We have discussed the master plan of expanding the runway up to 3,400 metres with Airport authority of India. There is a valley which is 60 to 70 meters deep. Now the question is how to execute the expansion plan.
A budget of Rs 1,500 crore is required for the expansion. Consultation work is currently in progress. Parallel taxi track-way work is under progress presently. We have completed the first phase. Another two years and the taxi track-way work will be completed.
Q: What about the demand of passengers for railway and bus facilities?
A: Right now, there is no such proposal from the railway authorities. There is a Konkan railway line nearby which can be explored by the government to link the city to the airport through railways. Regarding bus facility, we have approached KSRTC. The discussions are on.
Q. There was clash between local taxi drivers and app-based taxis on operating at the airport. Has this issue been resolved?
A. This problem is there at all airports all over India, not only in Mangaluru. We have issued licences to local taxi services and collect fees from them. This has been the practice from many years. So now it (app-based taxi service) is creating problems for them. App-based taxis can drop passengers at the airport, but there are issues with pick-up.
Q: What is the inflow of cargo at Mangaluru airport?
A: There is a lot of movement of domestic and international cargo here. As much as 100 tons of international cargo is being handled every month. Fruits, vegetables and electronic goods are being exported. Domestic cargo is going well touching up to 400 tons. The operations of Indigo Arlines might double the movement of cargo.
Q: What are the plans for further development of Mangaluru airport?
A: The construction of parallel taxi track-way is currently under construction. The widening of the strip close to the runway is also on. We have requested for a 30-acre land from the state government. If the land is alloted, it will be best for the safety of the flight.
We have a parking space for six flights at present. Construction of parking space for two more flights is also on which will be commissioned shortly. There are plans for making space for another four flights.
As of now, there are two passenger boarding aerobridges. By December, we will complete another two, which will be helpful to international fliers. There will be expansion of terminal building for which Airport Authority of India has approved Rs 132 crore. Tender will be invited from May end, work will start by October. Within the next few months we will have seperate arrival and departure halls. Departure hall will be downstairs, so passengers can directly have access to the parking space. Current parking congestion will also be solved.
Currently we have only one conveyer belt, soon, two new conveyer belts will be provided.
Q: You took over as the director of the airport after an unfortunate incident which was the air-crash. There were numerous challenges before you. How did you handle the pressure?
A: We need to keep performing and live up to the expectations of people. We redress the grievances of passengers on priority. Confidence of people in us gives us satisfaction.
Q: How is the response of people on Twitter and Facebook page which you introduced recently?
A: People appreciate us and even criticise if necessary. I convey important instructions to the officers who sincerely follow it. We are giving our best to maintain the reputation of the airport. There should not be any lapse on the officers' part. We want to carry forward the legacy of this airport.
(Twitter handle : @aaimlrairport)
Q: Any message for domestic and international passengers who are using this airport?
A: Mangaluru airport is one of the best airports in the country. Passengers who face problems should bring it to our notice. We are here to help them. Passengers can even contact us through twitter and facebook. Do not lend your ears to rumors. There is 'Air Seva App' too which was introduced by the government for redressing public grievance.
Watch complete interview with airport director: