Why Mumbai desperately needs Navi Mumbai airport despite CSIA T2

Now that Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Terminal 2 has been inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, international fliers will soon get to judge whether the incredible stories about the terminal are true.

CSIA T2 houses one of the largest collections of art in the world at an airport, with over 7,000 artefacts on display. 77,000 plants of 80 species reduce solar heat gain. The 946 handcrafted chandeliers at T2 procured from the Czech Republic are inspired by the lotus flower. But it is the 3 km long art wall that is sure to draw the most eyeballs. Over 1500 artists have put together the display called the Jaya He program.

Why Mumbai desperately needs Navi Mumbai airport despite CSIA T2

The site for the new airport in Navi Mumbai. Reuters

But does that mean that the much delayed Navi Mumbai airport is no longer required? Will CSIA T2 enable Mumbai to take on Delhi in the airport stakes?

Unfortunately, Mumbaikars are in for some disappointment here. Delhi has already won the airport war even if Delhi's Terminal 3 is drab and functional and without any of the architectural and art triumphs of CSIA T2. And that's because the race to gain air traffic is decided on the basis of size and not on how great an airport looks or the 'experience' it offers. It is not just about terminal size alone too--CSIA T2 will actually closely match Delhi's T3 in terms of gates, when it is complete and may actually be designed to accommodate more passengers, but there's the matter of aircraft parking too. Which is where CSIA has very little to offer and which is why the upcoming Tata-SIA airline will be based in Delhi and not Mumbai, despite CSIA T2.

A Tata-SIA spokesperson explained the choice of Delhi as Tata-SIA hub to Firstpost by saying the single biggest problem new airlines face is of parking the fleet at night and only Delhi airport offers that option. That's the ground reality.

CSIA T2 has been designed to cater to 40 million passengers annually, but Mumbai airport will already cater to 33 million fliers this year. The problem is that Mumbai's air traffic is poised to treble in eight years, according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA). Mumbai International Airport itself expects Mumbai's air traffic to probably touch around 85 million passengers annually by 2025.

The CAPA report further said that while India had around 430 aircrafts in 2012, the number would more than double to 1,030 aircraft by 2020. While efficiency initiatives can squeeze in some passengers into already packed terminals and new taxiways and better technology to manage air traffic can ensure faster aircraft movements as aircraft exit and enter active runways far quicker than earlier, parking space will remain constant. While Mumbai's ever-resourceful builders have brought in lifts to stack cars one on top of another in the space-starved city, there's no such solution in sight for aircraft parking.

The fact is that CSIA is able to only use 1,400 acres of the actual 2,000 acres of land it has, with an incredible 600 acres occupied by slums. But when you compare that with Delhi's sprawling Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport which stands on 5,123 acres, Hyderabad which covers 5,429 acres and Bangalore which spans 4,000 acres, you can understand the scale of the problem Mumbai faces in leave alone getting to a status of being India's largest air traffic hub, but even in terms of future expansion as air traffic increases.

Fact is, CSIA T2 is a 'Y' shaped structure and only one upper arm of the Y is now ready and being launched. The second arm, which is critical if domestic traffic has to be moved here and the dream of an integrated terminal has to become a reality, is currently dependent on slums being removed. And as MIAL has discovered, that is no easy task. The entire slum removal project is now stuck in a legal imbroglio.

Which is why the Navi Mumbai airport is crucial for Mumbai. The battle with Delhi for becoming the main gateway into India is actually inconsequential because if the Navi Mumbai airport is further delayed, Mumbai's own air traffic growth won't be serviced, leave alone dreams of capturing marketshare from Delhi. The Navi Mumbai airport is supposedly going to be the biggest in the country, with a capacity to cater to 60 million passengers per annum when it is finally complete.

But in reality, the Navi Mumbai airport is horribly delayed and work hasn't even started as land acquisition itself isn't over. While it was reported in November that the Navi Mumbai airport project had finally moved with Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan offering the country's biggest compensation and rehabilitation package to the project-affected farmers, the truth on the ground is that some land owners are still holding out. With national elections due in a few months and Maharashtra assembly elections a few months later, no one would expect Indian politicians to push through critical projects when they face the sceptre of losing votes. And that is especially true for the Congress, which is already on the ropes. The problem is so acute that the Maharashtra CM is now actually considering reclaiming land from the sea for the Navi Mumbai airport, which will only further delay the project and increase costs.

The Central government in late December allowed the Navi Mumbai airport to float the Request For Qualification (RFQ). After the RFQ process is completed, will come the request for proposal (RFP), on revenue sharing terms and only after that will the actual construction begin. In India, and especially when it comes to Mumbai's infrastructure, this process can take years.

City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO)'s Vice-Chairman and Managing Director Sanjay Bhatia has been quoted as saying that the first phase is expected to be completed by December 2017 and the Navi Mumbai airport will be the seventh-biggest international airport in the world.

But at the pace the Navi Mumbai airport is going, some other airports may take those vaunted spots.

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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2014 01:40:35 IST

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