The new terminal of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport has missed three deadlines in the past. And now, the fourth one is also staring at an uncertain future with the delay in supply of aerobridges that are supposed to link the terminal directly with the aircraft parking bays. If flight operations commence at the airport's new terminal from October - as committed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) - only seven aerobridges will be available instead of the 18 passageways that were actually planned. It may take another couple of months to install the rest.
"Officials from AAI headquarters have just completed inspection of the first lot of seven aerobridges in Indonesia. Sections of the aerobridges will be packed into crates and loaded on a freight ship for transport to Kolkata," Kolkata airport director B P Sharma said on Friday.
After a guided tour of the new terminal, airport advisory committee chairman and Union minister of state for urban development Saugata Roy also expressed concern over the delayed arrival of aerobridges. "There has been a delay in the delivery of aerobridges. Otherwise, the airport officials told me that they are confident of completing the airport on time," he said.
While transporting the aerobridges by sea across the Bay of Bengal to Haldia and then to Kolkata airport will take around a fortnight, it will take another fortnight to install the equipment. After putting them through trials, they will just be ready on time by September 30, the latest deadline for completion of the airport project.
With AAI failing to meet three deadlines till now, sources said a decision has been taken to go ahead with the commissioning of the incomplete terminal. Apart from aerobridges, a section of the terminal is under construction and will not be ready till this year-end.
"The section of the terminal that is not complete won't affect passenger service but it is the absence of adequate aerobridges that will hurt, particularly during morning and evening rush hours when multiple flights land and depart. If passengers have to disembark on to the tarmac and then board coaches to the terminal on arrival or the other way round for departure, it will be a shame," said an airline official.
During the only trial run that was carried out on July 15, passengers had to get off the aircraft and board a coach to reach the terminal. On their way, they went across the gaping rectangular steel structures that will hold the glass aerobridges.
"The problem is that the Indonesian firm PT Bukaka Teknik Utama is yet to ship the equipment. Operations at Chennai airport were also being held up due to delay in supply of aerobridges by the same firm. They got delivered just over a fortnight ago. The consignment for Kolkata is next in line," an AAI official told TOI from Delhi.
Though the firm has a poor track record with a former airport director even recommending blacklisting of the company for poor after-sales service (Bukaka had delivered two aerobridges in the existing domestic terminal), AAI handed the order for 18 aerobridges for Kolkata and seven for Chennai to it after the Union home ministry cited security concerns to refuse Chinese firms that had originally been selected. The delay in placing the order has further pushed back its supply and jeopardized the Kolkata airport's takeoff.
"If the aerobridges are not installed when the terminal is commissioned, it will be a major embarrassment for the AAI because getting on to the tarmac and travelling in coaches is unheard of in any modern airport. In several countries, there are aerobridges for transfer to and from smaller aircraft like ATR and CRJ as well," Indian American banker Darius Lilaoonwala, who arrived by the IndiGo flight that did the trial run on July 15, told TOI.
When the first trial run will be held for a departing flight either in August-end or September-beginning, it will be a challenge unless the first lot of aerobridges is installed and ready for use. That is because the departure terminal is on the second level above the arrival terminal located at the ground level.