'I'll land at around 9 am. I think I'll change at your place before proceeding to the meeting.' I told my friend over phone.
'When is your presentation?'
'At 11 am.'
'Dude… It is not a feasible idea. I would suggest you go directly to the meeting. I'll pick you up once your session is over.'
'What's wrong with the idea? You are suggesting me to come geared in formals all the way from here.'
'Do that. The Bangalore airport is far off from the city. It normally takes more than an hour to reach city from there. And you are not making things better for yourself by arriving at Office time. You would be lucky to start your presentation on time.'
His analysis was not far from accurate. The Bangalore airport is so far from the city that it almost appeared to be located in a different universe altogether. I was in Bangalore after a gap of 3 years – obviously this was my first tryst with the newly built Bangalore International Airport (operational from May 23rd 2008).
To neutralize the effect of distance a 6 lane expressway has been built and frequent transportation to the airport is arranged. This comes with a premium price tag though – while the Volvo buses operated by Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) charge you in the vicinity of Rs. 175 (I was charged Rs. 165 from HAL airport on my way back), the cabs can make your pockets lighter by Rs. 900 -1200. People may argue that the passengers who can afford air travel can easily shell out such an amount. Maybe, but I doubt it. I have a feeling that a substantial proportion of air passengers, especially those travelling through the 'low cost carriers', feel the pinch of such a pricing mechanism. Availability of transportation only solves the issue of connectivity; the time to commute still remains a big headache. There are plans to have a high speed rail link but it still is many years away from realization (considering the present fate of 'Metro' project in the city).
One of the prime objectives of air travel is to facilitate speed. In a fast paced world if it takes nearly 2 hours to reach the Central Business District (CBD) of any city then it somehow undermines the importance of air travel. My friend has stopped taking flights to his hometown of Hyderabad from Bangalore – 'It doesn't make any sense. I now prefer Volvo buses to visit Hyderabad', he says. Sometimes, the distance has other implications as well. On my way back, the flight got delayed by over 4 hours. I called my friend to inform him of the situation.
'You want to come back?'
'Naah… the travel will take more than 3 hours. It is better if I stay here and read some novel in the meantime.' I said.
'Good for you. I believe you have not read any novel in a long time.'
'Thanks. I will take it as a consolation.'
Many of the new/upcoming Greenfield airport projects are facing this problem of accessibility. Eventually with the passage of time they are bound to come within the city limits but would that affect the travel time involved in the absence of an effective 'Rapid Transportation System'. I acknowledge the many difficulties involved while selecting a suitable spot for such projects – foremost being the availability of the required land. Perhaps this is the reason why the present regime in Bihar is deliberating to shift the Patna airport to Bihta. Even the Airport Authority of India thinks that the place is suitable for the new Airport. Just for the information, the present airport at Patna has one of the riskiest runways in the country with the length of just about 6000 feet. Considering the factors of passenger safety and ever increasing air traffic, it is imperative to shift the airport. The only problem is that the current choice of location (Bihta) is approximately at a distance of 35 – 40 kms (As covered in some news reports) from the city.
I have some reservations based on the expected commuting time to this proposed airport. Further, Bihta is situated west of Patna while Patna is expected to grow towards east as well (as per the master plan). Thus, the distance to the airport from the other end of the growing city is expected to be substantial. If the decision makers have access to the master plan of the city, isn't it possible for them to identify a suitable spot which is almost equidistant from the extreme limits of the future city? Further there would be a need to develop a rapid transit system to reduce the time of journey (to the airport as well as within the city limits). While the above observations are made keeping Patna in mind, I think these would hold true for many upcoming cities.
Rahul Shanu, Guest Contributor, PatnaDaily.Com