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For whom Chennai airport toils?

Surely Not for the air passenger. One can see the contrast between airport construction entrusted to the private and government agencies. While Delhi and Mumbai opted for the privatisation route, Chennai and Kolkata went the government way, courtesy International Airports Authority of India.   Look at the difference: while Delhi and Mumbai that handle more than half the air traffic of the country are swanky and efficient, Chennai hits the news for the dozens of deficiencies in construction and maintenance.

 Even Bengaluru and Hyderabad airports are in private hands. The Bengaluru airport constructed by L&T as a green field site, incorporated state-of-the-art technology. True, Chennai had the problem of dealing with the construction of a live airport. The new facilities were added on the northern side for domestic passengers and the southern for international with no specific, viable plan for the middle portion. Construction of the second runway, considered a necessity, suffered from land acquisition problems. The state government and the Defence Department were also not cooperating to the extent needed in the original plans for acquiring land for the expansion. The construction job entrusted to Consolidated Construction Consortium Ltd (CCCL) again proved to be defective with leakages and glass panels falling off at frequent intervals endangering safety. There were serious issues relating to baggage handling systems and in handling cargo. Unlike the airports at Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai, online baggage screening is not done in Chennai.  Also, escalation in costs is hitting the viability of the airport.

So unfriendly to the consumer...

I am more concerned with the several serious decisions of the management that are not quite friendly to the air passenger. Many of these are relatively simple to handle with better coordination with and involvement of the state administration. I cite a couple of instances:

 AAI was initially worried about the crowding of the airport with private vehicles. In trying to tackle this, it found a new source of revenue. In this bargain, it overlooked its failure to go for multilevel parking designed to handle a much larger number of vehicles of around 1400. It initially enforced the rule of five minutes for vehicles to enter and leave without charge, but with the entry and exit points at two extreme ends – at the northern and the southern – this was impractical. It increased this to ten minutes. Still it results in conflicts between the transporter and the passenger.  

 While Uber, Ola and other call taxi services provided the commuter competitive rates and helped save them from the tyranny of auto rickshaws, the AAI had an ingenuous argument of such taxis ordered for pick up of passengers crowding the airport and indulging in unfair practices.

 The AAI recently imposed an entry fee of Rs 100 on taxis and other commercial vehicles that enter the Chennai airport to pick up passengers - another unfriendly consumer act not seen in other airports. We have for long been suffering the tyranny of organised exploitation by licensed cab services available at the terminal – Fast Track, Aviation Express and the black and yellow taxis run by drivers of a cooperative society. The last one running mostly old Ambassador cars, levies the lowest fare that itself is priced at an exorbitant Rs 30 per km against the average price of Rs 15 and below charged by call taxi operators.  Fast Track charges around Rs 40 plus per km. The luxurious Aviation Express is still costlier. For the modest licence fee the airport gets from these, should it allow these agencies to fleece the consumer? Deepak Shastri, the Airport Director and his team, seem to work for these unscrupulous operators and not toil for the consumer.


Solutions just a stone’s throw away...

I looked in contrast at Bengaluru where sleek taxi services are available at around Rs 18 per km. More interesting are the services offered by Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) that offers frequent and comfortable, air-conditioned Volvo bus services to different parts of the city at standard rates for AC buses. These buses connect the airport and the city through 11 routes; make almost 251 trips every day at a frequency of 30 minutes. These are fast and efficient. The ticket per passenger in these is priced modestly: for instance, around Rs 220 for Race Course Road against Rs 720 charged by a taxi. Even to the distant JP Nagar Phase III, the fare was just Rs 265. These buses are full, offer courteous service (conductors help passengers with lifting and delivering baggage, obliging them even to alight at convenient spots and give directions to the local area, quite a contrast to most conductors of MTC buses who expect the passenger to pay obeisance at his seat).

Like what MTC has done at Chennai Central, AAI can create a special bay for such buses to pick up and drop passengers. This will save them from exploitation by the unscrupulous auto rickshaw drivers and taxi operators who are a law unto themselves. Only, the bus service has to be comfortable, frequent and courteous. For a change, I suggest AAI  realise that it exists for (and because of the air travellers) and not for taxi operators.


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