I am sure most readers are somewhat familiar with the problems that they face at Airports in India. The long queues at check in counters, inadequate lighting, inadequate and poor quality seating, badly maintained and sometimes non-functional toilets, bad quality PA system that one can’t make out the announcements, generally unclean, inadequate choice of eating places and of course high tariffs (this is an Airport after all!), inadequate boarding gates and cramped and sometimes overloaded boarding busses and many more problems.
What most flying passengers don’t normally see, but do sometimes, is the chaos on the tarmac. The tarmac is the area on the Airport where the Aircraft comes in to park and disembark arriving passengers and embark departing ones. This is the area where most of the ground operations take place including loading/unloading checked in baggage, line maintenance of the Aircraft by the Airline engineers, re-fuelling and of course loading and unloading passengers. This is also the area where the maximum numbers of Airline employees are moving around. As mentioned above, these people are the engineers, technicians, loaders, flight dispatch officers, ground facilities personnel mostly. Most Indian Airports including the big ones at Mumbai and New Delhi are not equipped to handle the volume of traffic that has been operating into these Airports since recent times.
With the present number of operators apparently eight new operators in India coming in this year, all operating out of the limited number of “operational” Airports in India will lead to further chaos. Another area that passengers don’t get to see is the antiquated Air Traffic Control system. Most ATC’s as they are called rely on antiquated radar systems and some of them, including Mumbai (Scary isn’t it?) have very poor primary radio.
In layman’s terms, the primary and secondary surveillance radars (SSR) are the best ways to see Aircraft flying around and know their exact positions, their altitude (the height at which they are flying) and their air speed. All this comes up on the SSR. Horrific news is that most airports including Bangalore don’t have such facilities! In other words, ATC’s sometimes have an idea as to where you are and sometimes don’t. As for communication, your truly was flying an F-27 twin turboprop on a ferry flight to Bangalore from Muscat and even at close range flying over Mumbai, we could not communicate with them. Another Airline was “relaying messages” back and forth and nearly all Airlines were doing the same.
CNN-IBN did an expose’ on their channel about this problem but in some cases I found the reporting to be a bit alarmist. However, sometimes I think we need alarmist reports in the media for people in this Country to wake up and smell the coffee. At least now it seems the Government is trying to improve facilities but to me this seems like “too little, too late” and not fast enough. Unless the improvements are done on a war footing, things are only going to get worse. The other area for expanding facilities is by building new Airports around the country. This is a huge country where Air Services is vital but largely ignored in terms of development.
We need lot’s more Airports to cover all of the regions. The Government should not look at immediate returns but invest on creating infrastructure for the future. If they can’t do it, the private sector must be allowed to come in and invest like it has been done in Cochin.
As for the Airlines, they have more problems and these don’t always mean the lack of facilities at the various Airports. They have this too and other problems facing them and the situation are getting no better. Some of their problems include skyrocketing fuel prices, inadequate supply of trained technical, managerial and pilots, the last being acute and getting worse. Not to mention that lease rates for Aircraft have gone up tremendously, only because of the increased demand for Aircraft by growing countries such as India.
To Clear the Mess:
What needs to be done to solve the problems facing this Industry and the people who use it? It is not that there isn’t enough money, because there is enough and more as a result of all the taxes and accruals coming out of this Industry. What we need is just this: A will to make things happen. A will to improve things and a resolve to make this Country a leading player in the World of Aviation.
Do we have such a will? It’s a Million Dollar (or should I say Rupee) question and one that cannot be answered easily what with a coalition Government at the centre and a party that I attribute to being the only survivor of the Dinosaur era, being a part of the ruling coalition, albeit from the “outside”. This party is well known for it's position on modernization of Airports (or anything else for that matter) and also known for saying that air travel is for the rich man and hence no investment must be made for their convenience!
We, the People need a kick in the backside for electing a non progressive bunch of persons who want to take India back to the Ice age and some of them who get elected on caste lines to ascend the steps of the Parliament and making a mockery of our democracy.