The flights at Kempegowda International Airport were heavily affected due to Aero India show 2017. It goes to show that HAL airport needs to be reopened at times like these to help relieve the congestion, atleast by allowing regional flights if not domestic connectivity. Events like Aero India and Pravasi Bharatiya Divas draw massive crowds from all over the country and happen at the same time every year. We know already that despite the preparations we make, the heavy influx of domestic tourists can raise the issue of rescheduling and delayed flights. Why then, don't we use HAL to ease the load?
At present, HAL airport cannot be a second airport for Bengalureans because of a 25-year agreement between the Karnataka government and Kempegowda International Airport Limited (BIAL), which does not allow an additional airport within a radius of 150 kilometres of the latter. However, the city is much larger today than it was before in terms of population, traffic congestion and number of flights going in and out.
Management could be a problem as well. There are 43 in-service airports throughout India out of which only 22 are technically operational. The problem isn't exclusive to Bengaluru, it exists all over India. Perhaps HAL authorities should come up with a plan - flights to Hampi, Belagavi and Hubbali, as well as other smaller regional airports would be an impetus to tourists as well. Using a small 22 or 16-seater aircraft would allow passengers to take short-haul flights easily and take the heat off KIA at the same time.
A second runway is being built to relieve the pressure on KIA, but what they could do in parallel is also allow the regional connectivity through the HAL airport. Having said that however, in December 2015, the High Court dismissed two Public Interest Litigations that sought to reopen HAL airport for commercial operations. The policy decision was said to be made keeping in view the requirements of the citizens.
There have been opinions about why KIA management should take over the "old airport" as well, but the chances of this are slim. One must remember that HAL airport is used for defence purposes as well. In the mid 1990s, HAL authorities wrote to the centre expressing grave concerns about the adverse effects of civil operations being carried out simultaneously with defence operations. This is also one of the reasons why the HAL airport is not available for commercial purposes.
Today, HAL airport is used mainly to test defence flights, especially by the National Flight Test Centre, which conducts test flights on new and upgraded defence aircrafts at the airport. The airport is also used for VVIP landings and takeoffs as well as chartered flights, which help HAL rake in some revenue from the airport. Mr. Parrikar had mentioned at the time of its closure that stopping all commercial flights and cargo operations to and from HAL had led to the defence sector suffering a loss of approximately Rs 1,500 crore in Public Sector Undertakings. HAL authorities will find the option of plying commercial flights for regional hauls to be commercially viable.
It would be commercially viable to HAL authorities too if they start plying commercial flights for regional hauls. Reopening HAL will also come as a boon to tourism as it will make certain areas of the state far more accessible than they are now. We may even have the option of planning affordable or chartered flights back and forth.
Let's not forget convenience! KIA is a further away for commuters coming from the south and south-eastern parts of the city. HAL would definitely be a more convenient option if they want to make it to the airport in time for their flight. It would certainly help with the traffic congestion on the roads. Easy access is another aspect - this is airport is more accessible to the IT hubs that are clustered in the southern and south-eastern parts of Bengaluru.
In my opinion, it would be beneficial to open up a second airport, HAL, bearing in mind the positive aspects it will bring for the citizens of Bengaluru. At the very least, regional flights should be allowed if not long distance domestic ones.
The writer is Minister for IT & BT, Science & Technology & Tourism, Government of Karnataka...