It appears that Bidar residents' long wait for civil aviation facilities at the Bidar Air Force Base has been in vain.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has not accepted the State Government's request to start civil aviation here, even four years after of the Ministry of Defence cleared the use of the airstrip for civil aviation.
This is because the GMR group that operates the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad has objected to the State Government's demand. GMR officials maintain that they signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the AAI that bars another airport coming up within 150 kilometres of the Hyderabad airport.
“GMR has urged the AAI not to permit civil aviation in Bidar, as the airports in Hyderabad and Bidar are less than 150 kilometres away from each other. According to the MOU, having another airport in close proximity would ‘affect its revenue stream,'” government sources said.
The State Government then requested the GMR group to take over operation of the Bidar airport, asking it to collect and keep the airport user charges from commuters.
The then infrastructure secretary, V. Madhu, held a meeting with GMR officials and a team from the group came down to Bidar airport to inspect the facilities. However, the infrastructure major has not responded positively to the State Government's repeated requests, government sources said.
“They keep arguing that the operations will not be financially viable,” said a senior officer. “We tried to tell them that their seed investment here would be zero. They have to just come, put up their banner and start operations. There is a runway, a well-protected boundary and a terminal. They don't have to spend money on any of these. Their revenue will start from day one. But they are not convinced,” the officer said.
When contacted, a GMR spokesman in Hyderabad said the group was “studying the situation”.
After the Ministry of Defence cleared the proposal in 2007, the State Government wrote to the AAI, urging it to permit private airlines to operate from here. Hoping that the request would be granted, the State Government built a terminal, including a passenger lounge and a customs office complex in 2008, built at a cost of Rs. 3 crore.
Land for the terminal was obtained on lease in Chidri village behind the air base for three years. The lease of the land expired on September 6. Revenue department sources said they were trying to extend the lease.
“We have waited for three years for the AAI to issue permission. Now we don't know what to do with the office complex. If the State Government tells us to drop the idea, we will use the terminal for some other purpose,” a senior officer said.
Officials are not optimistic. “The State Government may not pursue the matter with GMR as the Gulbarga airport will be operational in 6-9 months and infrastructure needs of the region will be served,” a senior officer said.
Source: the Hindu
URL : http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/article2445915.ece