In an interview with INFRASTRUCTURE TODAY, Hari Marar, the dynamic Managing Director and CEO, BIAL, tells that he is resolved to make Bengaluru Airport "the gateway to a new India" through expansion in airport infrastructure, application of disruptive technologies, and addition of new cargo handling amenities.
What factors have helped Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru to successfully become the primary gateway to South India?
Bengaluru being the geographical centre of South India has emerged as a preferred travel destination among travellers as the Gateway to South India. The city's proximity to various urban centres and industrial hubs in southern provinces aids easy access, seamless passage, and shorter travel time for passengers and industrialists. Every route that the Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru (BLR) Airport operates to is carefully curated and engineered with airline partners to provide a delightful travel experience. Our robust airline partnerships have paved the way for the building of superlative connectivity among centres of trade. Together, with our airline associates, as the airport's holding company, BIAL is working towards a common vision of connecting Bengaluru with the world. We are focused on enhancing and developing routes with our airline partners to continue on our growth trajectory by connecting destinations and growing passenger volumes. BLR Airport has been the second fastest growing airport in the world, in absolute terms, during the first half of 2018, according to a study by Routes Online.
So, where do you see the BLR Airport in the near future?
Hubs are most often developed at efficient airports, which are run by skilled and expeditious taskforces driven by an integrated, ethical and engaging work culture. We aim to make BLR Airport a successful passenger and cargo hub with state-of-the-art infrastructure and technological advancements that deliver efficient airport operations. Going forward, BLR Airport will aim to transform into the Gateway to a New India = one that keeps pace with a fast-developing, knowledge economy. BIAL is currently in the process of expanding infrastructure at the airport with the construction of Terminal 2 and a second runway, which would significantly help increase its overall capacity.
Tell us about the main technological interventions that were introduced at the airport?
As pioneers in airport innovation, BLR Airport prides itself on providing innovative solutions to enhance passenger experience at every touch point. We are committed to our futuristic and innovative vision of a smart, digitalised and seamlessly connected intuitive airport. One of our primary goals is to be at the forefront of innovation and technology.
BIAL recently launched the self-bag drop facility by deploying 16 fully-automated self-bag drop machines that would significantly accelerate baggage transactions and reduce check-in queues. To further enhance the travel experience, 32 brand new self check-in kiosks from Maxworth Electronic Systems, in partnership with ICTS Europe Systems, will be installed to print boarding passes and baggage tags. In addition, e-gates for a self-boarding solution have been installed in the West Bus Boarding Zone. Biometric-based self-boarding solutions and smart security lanes are expected to go live in the coming months, offering passengers a slew of technology-based check-in options.
What are some of the main challenges in incorporating modern technology?
As the operator of BLR Airport, BIAL is constantly challenged by the need to identify new and emerging technologies that can enhance business efficiency and improve customer experience. Our concerted efforts will be to introduce innovative interactive digital solutions that will create value for our passengers and concessionaires. In this dynamic operating environment, technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, blockchain, big data analytics, etc, will evolve at a rapid pace. However, anything we adapt or introduce will be with a long-term objective for the benefit of our customers.
What is the progress on the expansion of your cargo infrastructure?
BIAL has made a substantial investment in cargo infrastructure at BLR Airport. The current design capacity of our combined cargo terminal is 570,000 metric tonnes (MT), and it caters to both international and domestic traffic. We have the scope to expand our capacity by up to 850,000 MT. Our dedicated pharma handling zone, Coolport, has the capacity to handle 50,000 MT per annum.
Currently, Air India SATS Airport Services and Menzies Aviation Bobba Bengaluru are the two cargo terminal operators at BLR Airport. In the previous fiscal, our cargo throughput was 348,403 MT, registering a 9.1 per cent growth. In terms of export value, BLR Airport is the largest port of export in Karnataka as it handles about 32 per cent by value of the state's exports. The airport aims to continuously work towards both supply and demand development to increase overall trade. Airline development plays a major role in bringing more capacity to quicken the pace of transportation of goods to various destinations. We have also strengthened our catchment area connectivity with the introduction of a dedicated road feeder service under the brand name LOGI Connect from Tirupur, Coimbatore and Ambur to the airport. We are in the process of evaluating additional stations for route enhancements. In order to provide a dedicated handling facility to express courier shipments, we are building the country's first dedicated express courier terminal, adjacent to the existing cargo facilities. We are also developing a cargo trucking facility to offer rest and refreshment for our trucking partners.
Please elaborate on your plan of developing a logistics park at the airport.
We are reviewing our cargo master plan for the airport to include the development of an airport logistics park. Our broad vision for BLR Airport is to nurture the regional economy through the development of compatible and synergistic logistics facilities. The logistics park at BLR Airport is targeted to have two main elements: one, support for the traditional businesses associated with aircargo, ie, airfreight terminals, special cargo handling facilities, etc, and two, a supply chain support centre that will include warehouses, distribution centres and integrated logistics centres. We aim to be the single gateway in South India for cargo traffic and shippers aspiring to reach this fast-growing region.
What is your outlook for the Indian airport infrastructure in 2019?
An analysis by the International Airport Transport Association (IATA) shows that India is the fastest growing domestic aviation market in the world, with air connectivity growth at 114 per cent in the last five years. Due to the surge in passenger volumes, growing demand for air travel and increased scope of building regional connectivity, strong growth can be anticipated in the Indian airport infrastructure sector in the coming years. We can expect airports in several Tier-II and Tier-III cities to be privatised, modernised and expanded to cater to the surging demand. Aviation regulation might be simplified further and aligned to attract private investment in developing airport infrastructure. Digital innovations will play a significant role in maximising utilisation of existing airport infrastructure. With the development of world-class airport infrastructure, India would be well placed to achieve its vision of becoming the third largest aviation market by 2025.
As India's third busiest airport, the Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru handled around 26.9 million passengers in FY2017-18. Inaugurated in May 2008, it was the country's first greenfield airport to be built on a PPP mode. Fairfax India Holdings, Siemens Projects Ventures, AAI and the Karnataka Government-owned KSIIDC have shares in the holding company, (BIAL).
- Manish Pant