And so, we finally have a new terminal at our airport. It took its time in coming up and, even when ready, had to wait for a long time to be inaugurated. But those who were expecting world-class facilities were in for a big disappointment. Outwardly all glass and international, it is internally beset with several problems, all indicative of faulty planning and worse execution. While this may be endemic to the whole country, how long are we to put up with such shoddiness?
It all began with the layout of the terminal, which passengers declared was not user-friendly. The exit did not link to public transport facilities at all and passengers needed to trudge long distances before accessing them. Next came the discovery that there was a solitary ramp for handling baggage, both incoming and outgoing. That only slowed down the handling of luggage. And there was no exhaust facility to let out gases accumulating from baggage trucks in this underground ramp. This was let out near where the passengers stood to collect whatever they had checked in! On receiving complaints about this, it is learnt that the authorities instructed airline operators to run battery-operated trucks in future. The airlines, already struggling under losses, are complaining about the additional costs.
Glass panels have repeatedly cracked at various locations. But that is nothing compared to the falling down of false ceiling panels. This has happened twice. We have also had a fire to deal with. The latest is that the passengers are complaining about pigeon droppings and a massive beehive that is building inside the terminal. The last two are, of course, the least of the troubles; in any case, the authorities ought to have looked into how their building could integrate with nature, an excellent example of which is the Bangalore airport. And finally, does a terminal that has taken forever in getting ready still have to be full of incomplete work necessitating an army of workmen continuously on the premises with their tools cluttering every nook and cranny? Matters are going to be complicated further when the international terminal is inaugurated in the next few days.
The Chennai terminal has been built by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) sans any outside consultant or partner. It would perhaps have been better if external help had been sought, given the current fiasco. But surely an Indian agency which possesses several decades’ experience in running airports ought to be an expert on such matters by now. Clearly more attention has been paid to red tape and adhering to Government standards than more practical matters.
It now appears that the only way out is to bring in some expert management in the running of the terminal. This may be a blessing in disguise, as it could pave the way for privatising the running of the airport. Meanwhile, it is reliably learnt that there is pressure on the Centre to build a new international airport for Chennai somewhere in the vicinity of Sriperumbudur.
If that is to be any different from the current apology that passes off as one, it will be absolutely necessary that international class consultants are roped in to advise on it so that it becomes a world-class facility from inception.
Projects such as these do not happen every day and, once built, it is difficult to correct infrastructural errors. Hopefully, saner counsels will prevail when it comes to a new facility.