A public sector company handicapped by bureaucratic short-sightedness and a city with dwindling business prospects have left Calcutta with a glossy airport that is turning into a flier’s nightmare within days of take-off.
“The terminal has been thrown open but most of the passenger facilities are not ready. The airport authorities should have set things right and waited for at least a month before starting operations,” said a senior official of a private airline, bombarded by flier complaints.
The terminal had missed four deadlines since August 2011, so why then was it thrown open in such a hurry?
Metro tries to answer some of the questions that you the flier — flummoxed or furious — have been asking.
WHY IS THE AIRPORT HALF-READY?
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) officials attribute the haste to several factors, from a knee-jerk effort to restore a battered image to a desperate bid to raise money from user charges. “There was pressure from the civil aviation ministry in Delhi and the airlines,” said an AAI official.
While the Rs 2,300-crore project in Calcutta was limping from one deadline to another, Delhi got a Rs 12,700-crore airport before schedule. The only difference: in Calcutta, a government company (AAI) was on the job; in Delhi, it was a private consortium (GMR).
“There was pressure from the ministry and, initially, the additional time taken was not sanctioned as it shows a public sector project in bad light,” an AAI official said from Delhi.
There was pressure from the airlines and airport managers, too, as complaints about the old terminal mounted with every missed deadline. “Everyone wanted to shift as the old terminal was going from bad to worse,” said an official.
Also, the user development fee (UDF) could not be charged as long as passengers were using the old terminals. The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) had proposed UDF for Calcutta airport from February 15. It was first deferred to March 1 and later to March 15. The airport is now charging Rs 400 for domestic and Rs 1,000 for international fliers as UDF.
WHY CAN’T I FIGURE OUT MY FLIGHT STATUS?
Because you blinked. The flight status boards move up like a scroll and every time your flight status moves out of the screen it is a long wait to catch it the next time. The boards are small and vertical, and show only one language at a time. So if you miss the English update and are not so comfortable reading Hindi, you have to wait for your number again. The flight number is the only clue on the new boards, which neither show the destination nor the place where the plane is coming from.
The reader-unfriendliness doesn’t end there. A serif typeface, in which small lines tail from the edges of letters, makes reading difficult. Internationally, such information boards use a type face without serifs, which makes letters bold and easy on the eye when read from a distance.
Delhi uses a bigger screen, vertically placed and in pairs. All departures are shown all the time.
“We are looking into the problem,” an AAI official said.
Oh so PSU!
WHY NO SIGNAGE?
Here, you have to ask around for the right gates, search for the washroom and the water kiosk. Everywhere else, boards guide you at almost every step.
“The signage is a let-down. Two months back, there was a joint assessment by the airport authorities and airline officials on how to set up proper signage and things should have been in place by now,” said Captain Sarvesh Gupta, chairman, Airlines Operators’ Committee.
So, where are the signage? In Delhi, apparently! “Some of the signage were scheduled to come from Delhi but those are still pending. So we are acquiring those from Calcutta now,” said an official.
A sign of the times.
WHY NO FOOD?
A pizza outlet, one coffee counter and a mithai shop is all that you find at the new terminal, spread over 180,000 square metres.
The areas designated for food courts are lying vacant as the airport authorities are struggling to get food retailers to hire space.
Calcutta is just a century behind Mumbai — the Mumbai airport has 97 food and beverage outlets.
“We are yet to finalise the food courts. A private agency has been hired to bring in retailers,” mumbled an official.
WHY NO SHOPS?
Mumbai has 107 stores. Delhi a similar number.
“A modern airport with empty racks? It’s embarrassing,” said an official of a private airline.
If airports around the world are like mini (or mega) malls, few brands want to be seen at the Calcutta airport.
“There is hardly any demand for high-end products that can be sold at this airport, where people buy on impulse,” said an official of a leading apparel brand. Some retailers who had shown initial interest backed away because of the missed deadlines.
An official said they had hired an agency in Delhi to get “all leading brands”.
WHY AN AEROBRIDGE FOR HIM, NOT ME?
There are 12 aerobridges and not as many planes at a time but all passengers still don’t get to use them. Because of poor planning.
More than three-fourths of Calcutta’s passengers are domestic, but the 12 aerobridges have been split equally between international and domestic sections. “During peak hours, the aerobridges in the international section are lying idle while domestic passengers are having to take coaches like at the old terminal,” said an airline official.
At a meeting with the airport authorities on Tuesday, the airlines requested that more aerobridges be made available for domestic fliers.
Also, there are only four men designated to operate the 12 aerobridges, which means only four can be run at a time.
At the old terminal, there was no shortage at least in this department as there were only four aerobridges.
WONDERING WHY WE HAVEN’T RAISED THE BIG STINK: WHY ARE THE LOOS FILTHY? BECAUSE THAT IS A SEPARATE STORY IN ITSELF.
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