The Tamil Nadu government has come up with a plan to build a domestic airport in the border town of Hosur, Krishnagiri district, less than 40 km from Bengaluru city in Karnataka. Last week, the Tamil Nadu Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Civil Aviation to launch low cost-air services from the Hosur Aerodrome, reported Bangalore Mirror.
“Our former chief minister late J Jayalalithaa had written to the Centre asking it to make use of the not-so-popular airports in the state and had also said that Bengaluru stands to gain the most with this move,” said the MLA of Hosur constituency Balakrishna Reddy P to Bangalore Mirror. Reddy is also the minister of Animal Husbandry and Welfare in the Tamil Nadu government. He said that the Centre had granted the approval to use the Hosur airport under the Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik or UDAN scheme meant to improve regional connectivity, and an agreement had been passed by the Cabinet last week. “Hosur airport is now ready to take off,” he added.
The Hosur Aerodrome is currently a private airfield which was established more than a decade ago. It is maintained by Taneja Aerospace and Aviation Limited, an aircraft manufacturing company. The airfield is used by some private chartered flights and by the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation for testing unmanned aerial vehicles, reported BangaloreMirror.
A new domestic airport in Hosur would considerably reduce the travel time for residents of south Bengaluru, especially for the burgeoning Information Technology hub of Electronic city in the southeast, who have to travel more than 40 km to reach the Kempegowda International Airport in the north of the city. Since the travel time to Hosur from south Bengaluru is barely half an hour, the working population here might find using the new domestic airport in Tamil Nadu more convenient over the existing international airport.
Saving time and costs
Mukund Sarathy, a resident of south Bengaluru who frequently flies out of the city for work, said that an airport base in Hosur would be very useful.
“It takes up to two hours to reach the airport during normal traffic hours, and cab expenses go up to Rs 1,500,” said Sarathy. “The commute is terrible, the airport is so far and there is no proper transport network to reach it. The government has transferred the burden of expenses on the people, instead of build low-cost connectivity to the airport.”
But although frequent flyers of south Bengaluru are excited by the prospect of having an airport closer to home, they are concerned that they will have a limited choice of destinations.
Under the Centre’s UDAN scheme, the airports are likely to only have flight routes connecting smaller cities and towns. “If it is really going to impact Bangalore, we need planes from the major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai or Hyderabad to land in the Hosur airport,” said V Ravichandar, an urban development expert. “If it is properly connected, it will definitely take away some business from the Kempegowda International Airport.”
There is still a considerable amount of demand for regional connectivity, which has been untapped by the aviation authorities, said civil aviation experts. According to Devesh Agarwal, the editor of an aviation analysis website, Bangalore Aviation, while Kempegowda International Airport has grown over the years, regional traffic has dropped by 20% – amounting to 6-7 lakh passengers a year. “This means that traffic has gone from air to surface,” said Agarwal. “People are resorting to taking trains, buses and cabs instead. This is a huge loss to civil aviation.”
Second airport already existing
Despite the fact that Hosur already has an airfield, Devesh Agarwal has his doubts if a domestic airport will come up any time soon. “It is a huge question mark,” he said. “I am not familiar with any kind of terminal facilities available at Hosur airport. I am not familiar with any kind of serious air traffic control facilities either.”
The Hosur airport still needs the approval from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which is the regulatory body for civil aviation in the country, said Agarwal. “The required facilities need to come up at Hosur, and these need to be inspected and certified,” he said, adding that the setting up these facilities would take years, and massive amounts of investment.
Instead, Bengaluru’s old airport known as the HAL or Hindustan airport, could be developed as a second airport for the city. HAL already caters to VVIP and personal corporate aircraft movements. This, however, has not been done, because of a contract signed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Bengaluru International Airport Limited before Kempegowda International Airport was opened in 2008. In this, it was agreed that no new or existing airport, except Mysore and Hassan, would be permitted by the Government of India to be developed as, improved or upgraded into a domestic or international airport within 150 km of the Kempegowda International Airport before the 25th anniversary of the airport’s opening date.
The Hosur airport also finds itself at odds with the agreement since it lies within 150 km of the Kempegowda International Airport. “There will be discussions and negotiations between the Government of India and the Bangalore International Airport Limited,” said Agarwal. “The BAIL may be paid some compensation.”
But the real focus should be on the HAL airport, which has huge potential to develop successfully, said experts. In 2008, the Kempegowda International Airport was flying just over 10 million passengers a year. But last year, the airport flew over 22 million passengers over the past year, with a growth of 22.5% in passengers in a year. With such a large growth margin and heavy air traffic, a second well-developed airport in the city could be useful.
“Karnataka missed a trick but not letting the HAL airport remain open,” said Ravichandar. “The government has had a myopic view of not having more than one airport in the city. To my mind, the new Hosur airport can have a big impact provided it becomes a mainstream airport for some of the trunk routes.”