Saturday, May 10, 2008


The news item in ToI of May 9th “GMR wants increase in Delhi airport fees” is not likely to get noticed by most users of Delhi airport and to their own detriment. GMR backed consortium has taken the contract on certain terms laid down by the government, which it found profitable. It has received funding from its equity participants and lenders by showing the same terms and projecting them as profitable. Cost escalations and contingencies are an essential part of such long term financial deals and must have been accounted for. There have been no unforeseen developments on those fronts to justify additional burden on air travelers unfortunate enough to use Delhi airport.

This is all the more so, if the amenities curtailed in the name of work-in-progress for indefinitely long periods are taken into consideration. Airports all over India and the world do undergo renovations and modification / expansion from time to time, but such gross chaos as has been prevailing over Delhi airport ever since the renovation by GMR has commenced is really unprecedented.

One improvement that all users of Delhi airport must have noticed and regretted is that five rupees wala cups of tea and coffee have gone missing since the development work commenced and have been replaced by fifty and hundred rupees wala cups. Even the outside stalls have doubled their price taking the cue from GMR group.

To begin with most basic of amenity of wash rooms has a number of units that is less than that of any decent shopping mall. This is despite the goal of handling one million flights per annum by 2010. The queues that extend for a couple of yards outside wash rooms during peak hours will bear witness to this on any day. If the number of units in washrooms has been rationed by some bureaucrat, then it’s a different matter.

Similar chaos prevails in baggage handling and situation is even worse at International terminal, where you will find foreign travelers alighting from long haul flights sometimes desperately trying to locate washroom through the labyrinth of barricades erected for renovation work for better amenities.

Lastly, India may be the only country in the world where airport tax works out to be thrice the amount of basic fare on many no frills flights. Gathering such data across continents is not my cup of tea, but from the limited information available I can say that I have never seen airport taxes in excess of 50% of basic fare on most international airports outside India.

The projections of revenue and profitability given to the financers by GMR should be examined by a qualified team, and need to be recast keeping in view the unprecedented rise in the number of air travelers before government takes any decision about further increase in airport fees or permit levy of user development fee.


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