Rajiv Gandhi International Airport: Redefining Air Travel Subhasish Chakraborty June 18, 2012 Airport/Airport Hotels, Health Travel, India With the successful completion of the construction of phase I of the GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL), the Ministry of Civil Aviation granted permission to officially begin operations from 00:01 hours on the 23rd of March 2008. The government notification also meant that the old airport at Hyderabad’s Begumpet will no longer cater to commercial flights. The day 23rd March 2008 is a red-letter day in the history of India’s civil aviation industry as it is for the first time that a mega airport project has been successfully completed with a private-public partnership. This gem of an airport, which is well spread out over an area of 5,500 acres was designed and constructed by GMR-HIAL – a joint venture of GMR Infrastructure Ltd., which has a 63% stake. Apart from GMR, the other stakeholders are the renowned Malaysian Airports Holding Berhad (11%), Airports Authority of India (13%) and the Government of Andhra Pradesh (13%). The airport which is located in the Shamshabad neighborhood of Hyderabad, immediately became the centre of attention for the international aviation fraternity. The launch of this futuristic airport couldn’t have come at a better time, particularly when the city of Hyderabad was then as it is now, on a roll with international IT giants like Microsoft, Deloitte, HSBC, Oracle, GE along with their Indian counterparts like Infosys, TCS, Wipro and Satyam, all of whom have their presence in the city of Charminar, and literally ruling the global IT landscape with their billion dollar turnovers. Another fact worth remembering is the strategic position of the city of Hyderabad. All the metropolitan cities of India like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata can be reached within 2 hours while the aviation hubs in the Middle East and South East Asia can be reached within 4 hours traveling time. This geographical advantage hasn’t been lost by the global aviation biggies like British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates etc… A high level delegation of British Airways representatives paid a visit to the new airport shortly after it was officially opened and were full of praise for the infrastructure and other miscellaneous facilities that have been made available for the discerning world traveler. BA officially commenced operations on the Hyderabad-London sector on 27th October 2008. Other renowned international airlines like KLM, Kuwait Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa, Malaysian Airlines, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Air Lanka, Thai Airways etc…. too, had keen interest for Rajiv Gandhi International Airport. The popularity of the new airport has remained phenomenal and it can be gauged from the fact that in little over the first month’s time, the RGIA had recorded a 16% increase in air traffic and a whooping 13% increase in passenger flow as compared to last year’s statistics. With the successful launch of the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, many seasoned international travelers are of the opinion that ultimately Hyderabad has come of age as a truly world class business destination and if things continue to move in the right direction, in the years to come, the RGIA is going to play a pivotal role in the hugely competitive global aviation landscape. From the get-go, Hyderabad was a much preferred aviation hub of Southern India and aviation experts are of the opinion that in the long run the RGIA will considerably reduce travel time as well as the fuel costs. Already this relatively new airport has handled over 1,90,000 passengers of which 30,000 were international and the rest 1,60,000 domestic. My first brush with RGIA was on 25th March 2008 and I had gone to receive my aunt who was scheduled to arrive at the RGIA airport by a Malaysian Airlines flight. At first glance I couldn’t believe such a hi-tech airport could be built in India. I knew a guy from Calcutta who worked for the Malaysian carrier and was based at Hyderabad. I contacted the Malaysian Airline counter and inquired about my friend from Calcutta only to be politely informed by the smart looking Reservations Asst. that he was on -leave. But being a thoroughbred professional that she was, the slender looking Reservations Assistant asked whether I needed any further assistance. Once she got to know that my aunt was scheduled to arrive by the Malaysian Airlines flight, which was still a good 1.5 hour away and that I was keen to have a look at this futuristic airport she herself escorted me and gave me a virtual tour of this stunningly beautiful airport. Nafisa, the Reservations Asst. from Malaysian Airlines was my guide and we began our exploration of the airport right from the scene of action – the Terminal Building. I was told that there were 12 boarding bridges, which in itself is commendable apart from the 30 odd remote stands and hundreds of Common User Terminal Equipments. I was most impressed by the easy availability of self check-in kiosks. On my frequent visits abroad, I like many others of my ilk were most embarrassed with the state of affairs at the Immigration Desks in Indian airports. Earlier, one had to queue up and bide his time until his call came from the mischievous clerk at the Immigration counter. The RGIA has changed all these and I was amazed at the pace at which the Immigration counters disposed off the cases. In all there are as many as 46 Immigration counters and at no point of time is there any likelihood of inordinate delays. Nafisa also came out with a startling revelation that the RGIA was the first airport in India to introduce the cutting edge Airport Operational Database (AODB) Technology. As far as the design and layout of the airport is concerned, it is undoubtedly very user-friendly and the architects have kept things simple. The Terminal Building is conspicuous by its sense of space that aids in free movement. The building is well spread out covering an area, which is all of 100,000 Sq. meters. The innovative manner in which the architects have designed the Domestic and International terminals is commendable as there is enough provision of space interconnecting the two terminals thereby facilitating smooth transit. After circumnavigating this incredible airport, I needed some rest and some breathing space to fathom all that I had seen. Seeing me perspire in the hot and humid Hyderabad afternoon, Nafisa and I decided to check into a signature restaurant. And what restaurants!!! The leading international brands like Café Coffee Day, Hard Rock Café, Cookie Man, HMS Host were all there, lined up to pamper anybody who took the trouble of stepping inside their respective premises. We were spoilt for a choice but ultimately settled for Café Coffee Day. I simply couldn’t stop admiring the hi-tech features of the airport and kept on eulogizing the marvelous work that the engineers and architects have put in to Nafisa, all the while munching my Chicken Sandwich and Cold Coffee. After the brief siesta, Nafisa and me proceeded to inspect the Lounge facilities on offer at RGIA. The absolutely gorgeous Lounge area is under the supervision of Plaza Premium. The sheer class and elegance of the Lounge area with a few discerning world travelers relaxing in the soothing ambience of the Lounge made for a truly professional airport service, which would be at par with the best anywhere in the world. The Lounge facilities at the RGIA is accessible to both Domestic as well as International passengers. I have seen the impeccably maintained Lounges at Changi Airport as well as the ones at Bangkok, but somehow the facilities on offer at RGIA like the exclusive Business Center, Gymnasium, Baggage Pick up and Delivery, Shower Facilities, exclusive napping areas and that rejuvenating massage therapy seemed far classier. The Limousine service is especially top-notch. As far as Duty Free shops and retail outlets are concerned, the RGIA has already roped in one of the best retail consortiums – “Shopper’s Stop” to cater to the exacting demands of the new age world traveler. According to Nafisa, there will be an exclusive retail zone that is being designed by a leading UK based architectural firm with years of exposure in the designing of global retail marts. The need for a world-class hotel in close proximity to the airport is a perennial need of any tourist destination. One of the world’s foremost hotel chains – the one and only NOVOTEL, has that taken care of. As far as state-of-the-art communications is concerned, the RGIA has left no stone unturned and the big names like BSNL and Tata Teleservice Ltd. provides both Voice and Data based services, in complete compliance to the exacting international telecommunication standards. PCO’s and Internet kiosks dot the entire stretch for the convenience of the passengers. As far as Foreign Exchange is concerned, two of the trusted names in the domain of Foreign Exchange – Travelex India Private Limited and Weizmann Forex Ltd, have been roped in to provide truly world-class money exchanging facilities. And there is no dearth of ATMs. The big names like Axis, HDFC, Kotak, Vijaya, Canara and ING Vysya have all made their presence felt with their exclusive ATM counters at strategic points of the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport. On the technical aspects of this futuristic airport, there is adequate provisions for parking aircrafts on the stands, which in turn are connected to the boarding bridges thus enabling a majority of the passengers to use the gates. Unlike other Indian airports, the state-of-the-art Ramp Handling equipments are strategically positioned in close proximity to the pier. What is more, there are provisions for smaller aircrafts to be transported to the terminal pier without causing any interruption on the adjacent apron taxiway. An innovation at the RGIA has been the introduction of the Fuel Hydrants, which is connected through underground pipelines from the principal Fuel Farm. As far as the connectivity to the airport is concerned, it is very efficient to say the least. There are multiple ways of reaching to the airport. Be it the 4 lane NH-7 to the West, the 4 lane Srisailam Highway to the East, the 4 lane P.V. Narasimha Rao Elevated Highway or the proposed 8 lane Outer Ring Road, the choice is yours. I was personally advised to travel to the airport by the all-new Aero Express instead of the self-drive option that I had previously thought of by my close door Banjara Hills neighbor. I was circumspect at first but the moment I hopped into the luxurious coach all my preconceived notions were swept away. This unique airport shuttle facility is the first of its kind in India. On can board the Aero Express at neighborhoods like Begumpet, Secunderabad, Charminar, Mehdipatnam and the HITECH city. The prices have been kept competitive and is pegged at Rs.95/ at the time of my writing. The best thing about the Aero Express is that the air-conditioned buses are non-stop with no halts midway whatsoever. The airport has also introduced a novel method of hassle free travel from airport to Hyderabad city by way of Radio Taxi service. This air-conditioned cab service is provided by the renowned Meru group and operates on the meter system. Each of the taxis that operate on the Radio Taxi domain are licensed taxi/cab operators issued by the Government of Andhra Pradesh and are reliable. The minimum fare up front is Rs.30/-. For those who rely on the self-drive option, the car parking facilities at RGIA is very well planned. At any point of time the RGIA parking bay can cater to 3000 vehicles. The parking area is fully automated and the state-of-the-art parking automated system is provided by the renowned Skidata-AG of Austria. The parking charges vary with the grade. There is Economy Car Parking, Premium Car, Parking for buses and coaches and exclusive parking bays for motorcycles and two-wheelers. Post liberalization, the successful construction of the RGIA is by far the biggest achievement of India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation. The ball was set rolling ever since the Ministry of Civil Aviation floated a global tender notice to develop and operate the Greenfield international airport at Shamshabad and the rest as it is known is history. Today, thanks to the Government of India’s liberalized civil aviation policies with regard to private participation in the development of airports, it is hoped that many new airports in India would be developed with the private-public mode of operation. India is blessed with incredible natural beauty in terms of tourism but there was always a feeling that India with all its technological prowesses could do better in terms of a few hi-tech airports. One has to remember that it is the airport, which is the first point of contact for the discerning global traveler. Thus, the airport plays a huge role in determining the perception of a country – negative or positive, by the jet set global traveler. With each round of my “Reconnaissance Mission” of the airport with Nafisa, I hardly had any remarks to make. It was all admiration. Admiration of an India on the rise. Admiration of an India as one of the world’s most exotic tourist destination and admiration for an India which is on its way to achieving aviation glory. As I put my earphones one last time before I went to receive my Malaysia -based aunt who was scheduled to arrive any moment, the patriotic song – “Sare Jaha Se Accha. Hindu Sita Hamara” never felt this patriotic before.