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Guwahati airport to be six times bigger after expansion: GIAL

Priyanka Chakrabarty , October 13, 2023
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GIAL plans for better facilities to absorb rising passenger traffic and an opening economy of the Northeast

Guwahati: The Guwahati International Airport Limited (GIAL) celebrated its second anniversary, managing the Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport. Amidst the challenges, it has come in terms with new demands of making it is the “real” gateway of northeast India and a channel to South East Asian countries.

In an exclusive interview Business North East the chief airport officer, Utpal Baruah tells Priyanka Chakrabarty about GIAL’s achievements in the two years including an elevated approach lightin system, its plans for a massive expansion of the airport and, how LGBIA will turn into a world-class airport for passengers and cargo alike by 2025. Here are excerpts of the interview.


BNE: Congratulations on completion of two years. Could you tell us about LGBIA before and after GIAL?

UB: This transition happened on October 8, 2021. When the Adani Group took over (the management of Guwahati airport), first of all, we found that on the aeronautical side, there were a lot of things to do. For instance, along the side of runways, there were a lot of low-lying areas. When there are low-lying areas there will be water accumulation. When there is water there will be birds. Hitting by a bird may sometimes lead to an accident. If there are more bird-hits even airlines are not too keen to come. So we had to close this one. 

The Directorate General Of Civil Aviation in India gave us the deadline that within a month’s period fill up all the low-lying areas. That was a great challenge for us. At that point in time, soil excavation was banned by the government of Assam. So we had to organize soil from Meghalaya. Finally, we had filled up with 5000 trucks of earth. 

Secondly, we are equipped with an instrument landing system category 1. It means an aircraft should be able to land when the visibility is 550 meters. But at this airport, the visibility requirement is 1300 metres which is more than even double (of what’s available). This is because wireless needs to be supported with the approach lighting system which should be 900 meters. In Guwahati, it is only 180 meters. Therefore, visibility requirement at this airport is higher. We have found out it was not done because a portion of land of 150 meters is with the Indian Airforce and  beyond that there is the Kalitasiddhi village.

Land acquisition was an issue so we found a middle path. There are a lot of airports across the world that has an elevated approach lighting system. It means there will be poles. On the top of the poles, there will be lights. So after our research, we found that it is possible to do this here, too. 

Finally, the ministry of defence has provided us with working permission. Our visibility requirement will come down from 1300 metres to 550 metres. It is a great achievement.


 BNE: What are the plans for the next few years, what’s your vision?

UB: We are very enthusiastic for three reasons. One, northeast airports have a natural potential. The easy way to go out of the northeast is only by air. If you want to go to Kolkata (from Guwahati), the Airbus 320 takes 55 minutes to reach. It is the easiest and most reliable way of transportation.

Our growth rate is tremendous. The world growth rate is 3.4 percent per annum. Our growth rate is more than 20 percent. Our wish is to develop a hub and spoke model.Yes, there are some challenges like visibility requirements all of which we are planning to close very soon. We are also planning for star and budget hotels. So this is our domestic vision.  Internationally,  we are trying to reduce time and money for those who are traveling to South Asian Countries. This is also contained in the Act East Policy of the government. 

The third vision is that the sub-Himalayan range is a very fertile land. We grow enough vegetables. In certain seasons our vegetable production is very high. We cannot sell. So we are forced to dump it.  In this respect, the Government of Assam is joining hands with us and we want to give a Filip to the growth of cargo market. We want to develop a farmer community who will be developing the vegetables and agricultural products at a global standard. 

Last but not the least, it is the tourism industry.  We have already initiated action with Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya together to create a robust tourism industry in northeast India. 

The International Civil Aviation Organisation has already calculated it. If 100 dollars is spent at the airport 325 dollars is generated at that place. If 100 jobs are coming at the airport 610 jobs are getting created in the area. 


BNE: What kind of expansion is being done at the LGBIA?

UB: Earlier we had five gates now increased to seven gates. Another four gates will be added. A sea change will take place when the new terminal comes up. It is six times bigger than the existing one. There will be 10 aero bridges there. We have four here. This terminal capacity is 3.4 million passengers per annum. But last year, we have dealt with 5.2 million passengers per annum. In this year, it will be 6. 5 million passengers. If you talk of how many passengers can be housed in one hour, our capacity is only 450 but more than 1500 passengers are there in the peak hours. It means all the facilities like washrooms created for one person is shared by four persons. We are planning that by July 2024 there will be a soft launch. After that, our shift will start. By January 2025 entire operation of the old terminal will go to a new terminal.


BNE: What will be the increase in passenger and cargo in the coming years?

UB: Passengers will increase if you increase the connectivity. Now, the total number of destinations is 34. Out of that, 24 are direct to a particular destination. 10 are via or hoping the flight. Northeast is now an emerging market. There is a natural flow of increasing. We are trying to align the connectivity at the appropriate time. For example, from Guwahati to Ahmedabad there is no direct flight. 

But we know that there is arrival of a sizeable amount of Gujaratis in Assam. Similarly, in ONGC etc. , there are a sizeable amount of Assamese outside. We have calculated that about 450 passengers travel daily from Ahmedabad to Guwahati and Guwahati to Ahmedabad. It means 2 flights can be operated. So, these are the studies that we are doing. Where we can increase connectivity and demand is emerging accordingly connectivity can be established. This will increase passengers. 

For international passengers, we are depending on tourists primarily. December onwards there will be connectivity from here to Bangkok four days a week.

How to develop a tourist circuit is our agenda at present. So that we can create a flow of international traffic besides business. It is not possible to develop an international cargo terminal so rapidly.


BNE: What is the increase in cargo transport?

UB: We are yet to go for international cargo. We have recently started domestic cargo. While the airport was handed over to us Airport Authority of India retained the cargo operation with them. We have created a facility by ourselves for handling domestic cargo. Perishable cargo has already been started.

The government is very proactive in this matter. We are trying to develop the infrastructure to do that.


BNE: What is the employment generation within these two years?

UB: Whoever comes to do the cargo business will need a lot of screeners. Those screeners are all local people. I am very vocal about locals. Whenever some position is vacant I always see that whether we can pick it up locally. If not first we about the entire northeast region. Then we go out of the northeast region for people. If you meet our customer service guys you will find local people only. It is like a mini northeast. 

Since the new terminal will be bigger it will generate a lot of employment. Now the Airport Authority of India has been helping us for three years. They are altogether 150 staff. We are also close to 150. So, 300 are on-roll employees. The remaining are off-roll employees. In total, across various shifts, about 5000 employees work here.


BNE: How are the contractors associated with GIAL?

UB: We have empanelled contractors. There are guidelines as to how we should give a contract. We have already submitted this guidelines to the Government of India and it is approved. Whenever we have a bigger work we are required to call tenders. We have a very robust system called Techno Commercial. It is 100 % percent free and fair.