“Chennai Airport incurred a loss of Rs 4 crore last financial year due to a multitude of reasons,” said C V Deepak, General Manager, Finance and the former Officiating Airport Director, Airport Authority of India (AAI), Chennai International Airport. In this exclusive interview, C V Deepak talks about ways to make the airport profitable and about crucial infrastructure projects such as multi-level parking, construction of a new terminal and the second airport.
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Where do we stand in regard to the construction of the second airport?
There have been media reports about the government zeroing on a site at Parandur in Kancheepuram district. But, we have not received any confirmation from the state government. So, it’s not right for me to comment on it. All I can say is that the government should also plan the public transport infrastructure simultaneously, as the airport will definitely be far from the city limits. The new Hyderabad and Bangalore airports faced this problem, where the airports were commissioned without proper commuting facilities.
It is also important that there is connectivity between the old and new airports in Chennai.
When do you think we can expect the second airport to be commissioned?
I cannot comment on that. But I can say that it has to be initiated immediately because the present airport saw passenger traffic of 22.5 million in 2018-2019, against its capacity of 15 million.
With footfalls at 150% of capacity, Chennai Airport is among the busiest airports in the country. Is it also a profitable airport??
On the contrary, we have incurred a loss of Rs 4 crore in 2018-19 due to the low tariff rates fixed by the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA). It is important to understand that the airport’s airside revenue that accrues from landing, parking and usage of facilities is determined by AERA for the major airports (which have annual passenger traffic of 15 lakh or more). The airport’s internal team only has control on revenue that comes through retail outlets, through a competitive open bidding procedure.
What are your plans to make the airport profitable?
Some changes are sudden and cannot be predicted. It’s part of the business and even if we have a plan, it doesn’t work out. For example, there has been an unexpected loss of revenue due to the closure of Jet Airways, and it has not yet been compensated by the increase in flights by other airlines. Chennai airport is filing its tariff proposal with AERA and we hope additional revenue would accrue in the next control period. (April 2021 – March 2026).
When an airline stops operations, what is the usual process of filling that slot, and how long does it usually take?
It is a tricky question. When Jet Airways shut down, the Civil Aviation ministry, Airports Authority of India and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) acted collectively and immediately. Notice was floated to the other airlines and we got a lot of responses. However, the filling of the slots takes time because the regulatory authorities have to consider various factors, such as viability of the route, sectors that the airlines want to operate etc. Fifty per cent of the gap left by Jet Airways has been filled now.
Recently, many passengers have taken to social media to comment on the inordinately long time taken for them to deplane and arrive at the baggage claim area after landing in Chennai. Can you explain to our readers what determines the parking of an aircraft at an aerobridge as opposed to a remote bay?
It is based on three factors. One, aerobridges are usually provided on a first-come, first-serve basis. Two, the smaller aircraft such as Bombardiers, that cannot be connected to aerobridges, park at the remote bay. And lastly, terminating aircraft are stationed at the remote bay, as transiting aircraft get priority for aerobridges. When parked at the remote bay, it takes more than 25 minutes for buses to reach the airport along the 21-kilometre perimeter wall. There are plans on the anvil to reduce this time.
We have been hearing on and off about privatisation of Chennai Airport. What is the present status?
The top officials from the Airport Authority of India have announced it. However, we are not yet sure which model of ownership Chennai airport will eventually adopt (Private or Public-Private Partnership).
How inclusive is Chennai Airport? Differently-abled passengers often complain of hardships in moving around, and that their restrooms are not maintained and wheelchair users are asked to stand up at security checkpoints.
We try to be 100 percent friendly to the fraternity. Ramps and Braille facilities are provided all over the airport. However, there are challenges. Regarding security, it’s a call that the CISF takes. A few mandatory measures have to be taken for security concerns.
We also get inputs from all stakeholders to make the airport differently-abled friendly and try to sensitise the airport and airlines staff periodically on it.
One also often hears that the restrooms at Chennai airport are unhygienic; why is that so?
Even though there are restrooms across the airport, those at the baggage counters are used the most by arriving passengers. Whenever a flight lands, the restrooms get crowded and unhygienic. Only after passengers leave can the workers clean again. The first person will always find the restroom clean, but the last person suffers the most. The responsibility to keep the restrooms clean also lies with the passengers.
Most other airports have designated pick up points and on location support for services like Uber and Ola. Why is it so unstructured at Chennai airport? Taxis and app-based cars enter with impunity into the VIP lane and get away without paying any parking charges to the airport.
The biggest constraint in Chennai airport is space. Not just the private cab operators, passengers have also been complaining about the lack of parking space. This problem will soon be resolved when the multilevel parking project is completed, hopefully in six months.
Tell us more about this multilevel car parking facility.
It’s a seven-storied parking facility being constructed on either side of the Airport metro station. It can accommodate 2000 cars and has other state-of-the-art facilities such as theatres and shopping malls.
The new T2 integrated terminal building at Chennai airport is expected to be ready by September 2020, according to news reports. How will that help the passengers?
We are confident we will meet the deadline. Passengers now walk around half a kilometre to go to another terminal (from domestic to international or vice versa). You can avoid it with the new integrated terminal, as it is a shorter distance, and connected by travelators. It will have additional check-in counters, and the latest IT and airport systems.
What other development projects can we expect in the next five years?
We will be demolishing the T3 terminal to construct another building, which once completed, will take Chennai airport’s capacity to 34 – 35 million passengers a year. We will be sorted until 2035. The deadline for this project is February 2022. On the operational front, we will enhance the strength of rapid exit taxiways to handle more flights on the runways. There are also plans for measures that will boost the capacity of the two runways.
(The interviewer met C V Deepak in the second week of January when he was the Officiating Airport Director, Airport Authority of India (AAI), Chennai International Airport.)