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Look, how your airport is changing!
Abhilasha Ojha
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June 18, 2005

We're at Indira Gandhi International to catch the Singapore Airlines flight to Changi. There is no place to sit, the AC is ineffective, and queues of people are looking either dazed or lost.

One can't help but feel that the airport is nothing more than a glorified version of an Indian railway platform.

Thankfully, this could well be history. It has been almost a year since the government announced plans for privatisation of the airports in New Delhi and Mumbai.

While the last date of the bid was to be June 24, it has been extended by two weeks.

As we do a tour of Changi airport on behalf of Changi Airport Managers & Partners (CHAMPS) and Bharti, who have invited us on a familiarisation trip -- they're one of the potential bidders -- it's tough to ignore the details that make Changi so efficient.

As Boon Swan Foo, chairman, CHAMPS says, "We consider the airport a destination in itself." He adds, "It is more than just a place for travellers to board or disembark from an aircraft. It is an experience in itself." Gerald Lum, deputy director (India project), CHAMPS adds, "People actually flock to the airport during weekends for outings."

Rajan Bharti Mittal, joint MD, Bharti Tele-ventures, who is confident of winning the bid, says, "The world-class facilities of Changi airport can definitely find a place in New Delhi and Mumbai's airports. Using our local expertise and combining it with the experience that CHAMPS has to offer," he adds, "I'm confident of creating a truly extraordinary experience for passengers."

At Changi airport, it's a treat to watch the theme landscaping in the terminal building. "The airport has its own nursery and we take care that trees are periodically transplanted," Gerald explains.

Can this be replicated at Indian airports? "Of course," promises Gerald. "The main concern for CHAMPS in India, depending on whether we get the contract, will be to concentrate on training the staff, have a speedy and hassle-free clearance with quick baggage claims in less than 34 minutes, offer a world-class retail experience, and definitely concentrate on landscaping," he says.

Passengers at Changi can check-in at the transit hotel where they can opt for massages or aromatherapy, or make use of the rooftop swimming pool, jacuzzi and fitness centre.

There's also a movie theatre that operates 24 hours daily, and more than 200 free Internet PCs allow travellers to surf the net for free.

While the Bharti-DLF-Changi consortium promises to effectively replicate the Changi experience in the Indian airports, another bidder, GMR-Fraport-IDF promises an equally alluring experience should the bid favour it.

Kirankumar Grandhi, director, GMR-Fraport-IDF consortium says, "Fraport's expertise is reflected in the number of successful airport modernisation programmes, such as Lima in Peru and Antalya in Turkey."

The GMR group along with its partner Malaysian Airport Holding Berhad has already been awarded the new Hyderabad international airport project on a build, operate and own basis, and its first phase would be completed by 2008.

"The airport will have all modern facilities and the entire area will be developed as a self-contained city with modern amenities such as hotels, business centres, exhibition centres and food courts," says Grandhi.

He reiterates, "We are the only company with airport development experience in India, and this will come handy if we win either of the airports."

Mittal says, "The experience of walking into an airport has to be extraordinary, with attention given to even the minutest of details." Whether he gets the chance or someone else does, one thing's clear, the airports at Mumbai and New Delhi are definitely gearing for a massive change.

And passengers could soon be queueing up not just for their flights, but to look at ways in which to spend their rupees at these airports -- whether shopping, dining, being entertained, or holding conferences.

"Airports are a national asset"

Rajan Bharti Mittal, joint MD of Bharti Tele-ventures, on its plans, should the Bharati-DLF-Changi consortium win the privatisation bid.

What kind of changes are required at both airports?

We need a 360 degree change, a wow factor that's missing at these airports. It isn't impossible. We need to give passengers a dramatic experience when they walk into the international airports in New Delhi and Mumbai.

Would you be happier getting New Delhi or Mumbai airport?

We are bidding for both. My personal belief is that Mumbai ideally needs another airport. Anyway, we are fully prepared with our plan of action.

First telecom, then the agri-business sector, and now airports. Why?

Why not? An international airport is a national asset. If we have the infrastructure and we're well-prepared, I see no reason why we shouldn't step into this venture.

If you don't win the bid, what about your plan for revamping smaller airports?

We need an anchor airport. We first need to concentrate our energies into developing and making the airports in New Delhi and Mumbai truly world class.

Why did you choose CHAMPS as part of the consortium?

Changi airport is a delightful experience. To replicate and capture all its positive aspects with Indian aesthetics for Indian passengers at Indian airports in New Delhi and Mumbai would definitely be an experience for Indians who travel by air.

Who's who

The eight bidders for the privatisation of New Delhi and Mumbai airports are:

  • GMR-Fraport-IDF consortium
  • Bharti-DLF-CHAMPS consortium
  • L&T-Piramal consortium
  • Macquarie-Aeroports de Paris (ADP)-Sterlite consortium
  • DS Construction consortium
  • GVK Group-Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) consortium
  • Essel Group-TAV consortium
  • Reliance [Get Quote] Airports Developer-ASA Mexico consortium

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