Major Indian airports are struggling to handle holiday traffic

Amit Tandon was upset and at a loss.

The government worker (not his real name) almost missed his last Vistara flight to Guwahati, despite having reached Delhi airport well before his departure.

“The queues at airport terminal check-in, airline counter and security screening were excessive and unmanaged. I wasn’t even late to the airport, but I still came close to missing the flight,” he said.

Tandon is not alone.

Air travel, especially during the holidays, has become a nightmare for many Indians navigating some of the country’s busiest airports such as Delhi and Mumbai.
Things got so bad that Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had to call an emergency meeting with the heads of all major Indian airports, CISF and immigration officials last week.

Passenger traffic from four major metro airports — Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru — rose to 8.71 million passengers in April-October of the current fiscal year, up from 3.95 million passengers in the same period last year, PTI reported, citing data from the Airport Authority of India.

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What was once the fastest and most convenient way to travel has become “rather tiring, time-consuming and inconvenient,” Tandon said IE.

After many on social media complained about missing flights due to long queues, Delhi Airport, operated by the GMR Group, on Monday unveiled measures to combat congestion, such as increasing traffic.

The measures, which include real-time updates on social media wait times, an increase in the number of entry gates, more staff at immigration desks and additional baggage screening machines, were taken after Scindia inspected the arrangements at T3 earlier in the day.

With three terminals, Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi is one of the busiest airports in the country, handling around 1.90 lakh passengers and around 1,200 flights daily. AAI did not respond to DH’s additional requests for comment.

Mumbai Airport on Monday also unveiled measures such as introducing a mechanism to monitor passenger flow and increasing the number of passenger service executives. PTI said.
Post-pandemic single-day traffic at the facility reached 1,50,988 passengers on December 10, which was the third-highest single-day passenger movement for the facility. The highest single-day passenger volume to date was 1,56,329 and was recorded on December 21, 2018.

So what happened?

Air travel has bounced back from the lull caused by the pandemic, but many of India’s loss-making airports are struggling to cope due to poor capacity planning and other factors.
While 102 airports reported a loss of Rs.3,855.75 crore, four airports reported a profit of Rs.8.4 crore, according to data provided by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in Lok Sabha in December 2021.

“Greenfield airports developed over the last decade have exhausted their existing capacities and need to be further developed and expanded,” says a recent report by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Civil Aviation.

According to Sathyanarayanan S, team leader at aviation consultancy CAPA India, Mumbai and Delhi airports are particularly busy and need to be expanded.
Others stressed the need for custom plans.

“Western airport models have been forced to adapt to Indian conditions,” said Satyendra Pandey, managing partner of consulting firm AT-TV. “(We) would need a very different design that fits local needs.”

Some others blamed the lack of advance planning.

“Unfortunately, India is stuffed and then thinks about expansion. We do not forecast and create capacity in advance,” said former AAI chief executive Deepak Shastri.

what can be done

While some airports are investing in new terminals and some cities are building a second airport, it will take time to address the capacity imbalance, experts say. In the meantime, passengers should expect delays.

“Previously the expectation was to be at the airport between 45 minutes and an hour before departure, and now it’s two to three hours,” said Mark Martin, general manager of aviation consultancy Martin Consulting LLC. “So something clearly went wrong.”

“It is high time that the Indian government set up its Airport Quality Index to ensure travelers coming to and traveling within India do not experience harassment and undue suffering, including 5-hour check-ins for a 30-minute flight” , he said .

Bengaluru surpasses Delhi and Mumbai in terms of “dwell time,” a measure of airport efficiency, which is simply the time between a traveler stepping out of their taxi and boarding the plane, Martin pointed out.

Even as many Indian airports are working to increase capacity, they need to work harder to reduce wait times and better manage crowds, particularly in the areas of security screening and immigration processing, experts said.

“We’re building magnificent palaces, but the infrastructure isn’t efficient,” said aviation consultant Rohit Tomar, who called on airports to introduce standardized performance criteria for immigration and security personnel.

As the proportion of private actors in airports has increased, reliance on contract workers for airport management has also increased, in some cases compromising accountability. Some others stressed the need for better employee training and more technology-enabled initiatives like the facial-recognition-based DigiYatra, which enables paperless entry into airports.

(With agency contributions.)

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