For the last two years, the state government has been demanding an international status for the Biju Patnaik airport. Do you think it will be a reality this year?
The Centre has put forth certain requirements. There are some land issues that the state government is sorting out. A quarantine approval is required. But we are expecting the international status to be accorded by March. The government is also pressing us for more airports in the state. We will start airbus operations from Jharsuguda in two years once we get more land. Another airport will come up at Jeypore in Koraput, depending on the feasibility report of an expert team making a spot visit.
While the airport is set to get an international status, don’t you think it is ironical that many domestic airlines have time and again been withdrawing their flight operations from Bhubaneswar?
That happens when they don’t have adequate traffic. Only Kingfisher has closed down. Air India had withdrawn for some time but has resumed operations to Calcutta from January 1. Besides, I have allowed some airlines like Indigo for night parking as metro airports are saturated. That will help have more flights to Bhubaneswar.
The state government has been in touch with international carriers for operations here. Has there been any progress?
So far, Fly Dubai, Thai Airways, Silk Air (Singapore) and Sri Lankan Airlines have evinced interest.
Once we convert the existing terminal for international operations with customs and immigration provisions, we will work something out with the four airlines. I am confident that it will be a success.
Do many private aircraft compete for space at the airport?
Yes, we have maximum number of small companies operating their own aircraft. Some of them who have fixed wing aircraft are Indrani Patnaik, Odisha Stevedores Limited, Jindal, KJS Ahluwalia, Aviator and Religare, while helicopters are Global Vectra, IMFA, Pawan Hans and Deccan.
How much revenue do you generate from the operation of such private aircraft?
That is a very detailed issue.
I can tell you that Bhubaneswar airport was making losses two years ago because expenditure was much more than revenue earned.
Government rules are such that small aircraft are not required to pay any money to Airports Authority.
We made profit in 2011-12 for the first time, of around Rs 6.64 crore.
Has there been any progress regarding the second airport being planned on the city outskirts?
As far as traffic projection goes, Biju Patnaik airport will reach its point of saturation in 2020, as it will double up as an international airport.
Further expansion will not be possible.
So, we will have a second airport at Khurda, double the size of the existing one. The state government is still working that out.
If the traffic volume increases as projected, we might need to shift international operations to Khurda post 2020.
In 2011-12, passenger movement was about 12.53 lakh, growth of around 20 per cent from the previous year.
Aircraft movement also increased by nearly 25 per cent.
Are there plans to revive the pre-paid taxi service at the airport?
We tried to introduce it twice but it wasn’t successful because you need the support of the state government and the police.
If we manage to get that support, then we can re-launch it.
Bird menace remains a serious problem with nine cases of bird-hits being reported last year. What steps are you taking to prevent such incidents, especially, since slum settlements and meat shops are seen to be re-emerging around the airport?
This problem is persisting since the airport is located in the heart of the city.
The law states that butcher shops and slaughter houses should not be present within 10-km radius of an airport.
But we cannot force people out of the area. Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC), being the law enforcement agency, must shift them to an alternative location. But they also have to follow certain guidelines before taking action.
So, are you not getting adequate support from the BMC?
We have regular meetings with BMC officials and they have extended a lot of support to us.
We also conduct joint inspection drives. However, results have not been up to our expectations. We need to work harder.
The BMC commissioner and chief secretary have been most helpful, but we cannot expect things to improve overnight.
The hygiene and sanitation awareness among people is lacking.
Any plans for generating revenue for the state?
We are planning to start cargo services.
It has potential to generate lot of revenue for the state government and employment for local people.
At present, since the cargo is routed via Hyderabad, Vizag or Calcutta, the state government has been making losses.
Progressive and practical
Sharad Kumar, 43, is the director of the Biju Patnaik Airport in Bhubaneswar
He was born and brought up in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, and completed schooling and intermediate studies from there
He then moved to Surat, Gujarat, to pursue a degree in civil engineering at the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology, formerly known as Regional Engineering College, Surat
After completing BTech in 1988, Kumar served as a lecturer at a local college. In 1990, he joined the Airports Authority of India. He has over two decades of experience in airport planning, maintenance and execution of construction, modification and expansion of airport projects
He has been posted in several key positions in different parts of the country including Mumbai, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa and Nagpur
He also holds an MTech degree in environmental engineering on airport development projects from the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology and has done his MBA from the Indira Gandhi National Open University
Kumar, who held the position of joint general manager (civil engineering) in AAI before taking over as Bhubaneswar airport director, is credited with the construction of Greenfield Airport at Pakyong, Sikkim
What would you have been had you not been an engineer?
I would have been a professor in an engineering college.
I taught for a couple of years before joining the aviation sector.
But as a child, I had several ambitions, imagined a lot of careers for myself.
At one point I wished to become a spiritual guru. Then I thought of becoming a sportsperson since I used to play table tennis a lot.
But as I grew older, I started taking academics seriously and ended becoming an engineer and then a lecturer of an engineering college. Subsequently, I landed a job in aviation sector.