Bangalore International Airport Limited’s managing director and CEO, Hari Marar, tells Joe Bates more about the ambitions and development plans for India’s third busiest gateway.
Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport has been making milestones since it opened, and the desire to be the best airport in India means that this trend is unlikely to stop over the coming decades.
It became the first new greenfield airport in India established under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model when it opened for business on May 24, 2008.
Indeed, operator, Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) arguably set the tone for things to come in India by showing just what could be achieved by private investors working in partnership with the state, Airports Authority of India (AAI) and other shareholders.
Upon opening, the airport boasted a 74,000sqm terminal, a single runway and, at the time, the most advanced technology at an Indian airport that equipped it to handle up to 12 million passengers per annum.
Expansions to the terminal in 2010-2012, and the opening of a second runway in late 2019 – each project triggered by rising traffic volumes – means that Bengaluru Kempegowda International Airport (BLR) now has a 150,500sqm terminal building and two parallel runways capable of handling up to 35 million passengers per annum and 90 aircraft movements per hour.
The extra capacity was certainly needed as BLR was one of the world’s fastest growing airports in 2018 and handled a record 33.65 million passengers in 2019. And BIAL is far from finished in terms of enhancing the airport’s existing facilities and adding new ones as the ongoing construction of its new $1.8 billion Terminal 2 clearly demonstrates.
New Terminal 2
Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and being built by Larsen & Toubro, BIAL is confident that the new Terminal 2 will be a game changer for BLR in terms of enhancing its operational efficiency, capacity and the award-winning levels of customer service it is able to offer passengers.
BIAL’s managing director and CEO, Hari Marar, says: “Our vision is to make BLR the new ‘Gateway to India’, and to achieve this we are investing around $1.8 billion on infrastructure that will initially increase our capacity to 55 million passengers per annum in the short to medium-term.
“We are in the process of constructing Terminal 2 and are scheduled to commence operations at the facility in 2022.”
Marar notes that BIAL wants the new the 255,000sqm T2 to be a leader in its use and adoption of new technology; have so many ‘green’ areas that it is viewed almost as a terminal in a garden; be known for its environmental and ecological stewardship; and be a facility that celebrates and showcases the rich heritage and culture of the Indian state of Karnataka.
Its initial design capacity of 25mppa also effectively means that Bengaluru Kempegowda will be capable of handling up to 55 million passengers annually across its two terminals.
A planned 200,000sqm expansion of Terminal 2 in the second phase of the facility’s development will raise the airport’s capacity to 75mppa.
In terms of its IT systems, BIAL insists that its investment in state-of-the-art technology as part of “a comprehensive digital transformation programme” started a few years ago, will ensure that
T2 delivers an enhanced customer experience and improved operational efficiency while at the same time creating new revenue generating opportunities for the airport.
Traffic and route network
Like most major airports across the globe, BLR didn’t escape last year’s COVID-19 caused downturn in traffic, experiencing a 66% decline in passenger numbers and a 12.7% drop in cargo volumes as 10.91 million passengers and 326,372 tonnes of freight passed through its facilities in 2020.
BIAL notes that pre-COVID, Bengaluru Kempegowda enjoyed a healthy traffic mix, with domestic destinations accounting for 86% of its passengers and international flights for around 14%, with the most popular routes being to the Indian cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune and Kolkata and the international destinations of Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Colombo.
COVID related travel restrictions meant that this market share inevitably changed in 2020, and although BLR has continued to witness the launch of new international services (Addis Ababa, Amsterdam, San Francisco and Tokyo Narita) and see the return of others grounded during the pandemic, the traffic mix today is more like 96% domestic and 4% international.
However, with a handful of new international routes expected to be introduced later this year as aviation continues to bounce back from the pandemic – American Airlines is due to commence a Bengaluru-Seattle service in November; United Airlines will launch flights to San Francisco in December; and Lufthansa is expected to start a Bengaluru-Munich service before the end of the year – BIAL is confident that the figures will slowly begin to return to pre-COVID levels over the next 12 to 24 months.
In 2019, the biggest airlines at the airport in terms of market share were IndiGo, AirAsia India, SpiceJet, GoAir and Air India, which between them accounted for 94% of all domestic traffic.
The top five carriers internationally were Emirates, IndiGo, Air India, Etihad and Singapore Airlines, which between them handled 48% of BLR’s international traffic.
Pre-COVID, BIAL predicted that the airport would be handling around 55 to 65 million passengers per annum by 2025, and although these figures might seem optimistic now, it remains positive about the future.
“We believe that traffic will eventually recover. However, the pace of recovery will depend on factors such as a possible third wave [in India], rate of transmission and the pace of vaccination amongst other factors,” says Marar.
“In the longer-term, we believe that BLR will handle around 90 to 100 million passengers per annum across the airport campus.”
BIAL prides itself in the fact that it is a global leader when it comes to its sustainability efforts and determination to limit the airport’s impact on the environment.
BLR, for example, was one of the first airports in Asia to gain Level 3+ neutrality status in ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, and it is actively working to achieve Level 4+ accreditation by the end of its FY2021-2022.
Other notable successes have included Bengaluru Kempegowda gaining net energy neutral status in BIAL’s FY2020/2021; banning
the sale of single-use plastics at its F&B outlets; numerous landscaping and afforestation drives; and commitment to recycling 100% of all waste produced at the airport.
And earlier this year, BLR achieved a major milestone on its sustainability journey by becoming 100% water positive, effectively meaning that BLR treats and recycles more water than it consumes, despite requiring millions of litres of water daily for the maintenance of infrastructure and operations.
Marar says: “We accomplished this by consuming water responsibly, re-using, recycling and replenishing water bodies.
“At BIAL, our holistic sustainability efforts are not just focused on the airport, but also on the community at large where we installed rooftop rainwater harvesting units in five villages to provide safe drinking water for the community, benefiting more than 300 families. We hope our actions will inspire others in the region to follow suit.”
A new sewage treatment plant capable of processing 2.5 million litres of waste a day has certainly helped its water recycling efforts as it ensures that treated wastewater can be re-used for landscape irrigation, ventilation and air conditioning and firefighting requirements.
Talking about achieving net energy neutral status in FY2020-21, Marar notes that as a result of energy conservation, BLR saved enough energy to power nearly 9,000 homes for a month.
“As we expand our operations, we aim to remain the flagbearer of sustainable operations,” enthuses Marar.
“We have put various measures in place to reduce BLR’s carbon footprint and protect our environment. Energy security is a very important aspect of our business as it is one of the key indicators to assess our sustainability levels.”
For the record, BIAL’s energy management initiative is focused on achieving carbon neutrality through the use of renewable, green and clean energy.
On-site solar installations as well as Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) from solar and wind energy suppliers have helped Kempegowda achieve energy neutral status since December 2020, but Marar is quick to point out that BIAL isn’t going to stop here.
“We have multiple measures in place to make the airport more environmentally efficient, with sustainability being the key pillar for all its operations to ensure the integrity of its economic viability, operational excellence and the conservation of natural resources,” he says.
Customer service excellence
Bengaluru Kempegowda and BIAL are serial winners in ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) customer excellence awards, being the only winner of the global Arrivals Award since its introduction and last year finishing joint top with Beijing Daxing for the Best Airport in the Asia-Pacific region handling between 25-40 million passengers per annum.
BIAL believes that numerous hygiene and sanitation measures, backed with cutting edge-technology that ensured a safe and often contactless airport experience for passengers, proved instrumental to its ASQ success in 2020.
“Our vision is to enable journeys, create experiences and touch lives as a new gateway to India, and this guides us in everything we do,” states Marar.
“As passenger volumes continue to grow, airports must grow beyond from being a mere place for arriving and departing passengers. Customer expectations have changed dramatically over the past decade and customers have become far more discerning.
“Today’s passengers expect excellence and personalisation as standard, and airports must constantly bring in innovation and reinvent themselves to meet the evolving needs of passengers.”
Marar also believes that the retail, entertainment and dining experiences available at BLR are among the best found at any airport in the world today, and have had a hugely positive impact on its passenger appeal.
Since 2019, these facilities have included an innovative retail and F&B plaza called The Quad by BLR, whose kerbside location and over 20 outlets spread across four zones (Retail, F&B, Flea Market and the Arena) have helped create a unique space and vibe that engages visitors.
Such has been BLR’s success in the ASQ programme over the years that it was recently inducted into ACI World’s prestigious Director General’s Roll of Excellence for consistently delivering superior customer service.
Speaking at the time, Marar said: “BLR is honoured to be inducted into the ACI Director General’s Roll of Excellence. I thank our passengers for the trust and confidence that they have in the airport.
“I would like to dedicate this recognition to the airport community, who came together to ensure seamless operations during these challenging times.”
And the airport continues to strive to do better, in early September awarding the Plaza Premium Group (PPG) a 10-year concession to carry out a host of passenger service activities at Bengaluru Kempegowda.
When BLR opened it boasted a range of state-of-the-art IT systems rarely seen in India before and the airport has since strived to lead from the front when it comes to the testing and implementation of new technologies.
This philosophy meant that it was able to introduce a number of tech-driven innovations to help combat COVID and improve the passenger experience during the early days of the pandemic.
These included introducing contactless processing; opening a virtual information desk; implementing a new queue management system by Xovis; expanding the use of self-bag drop kiosks; opening smart security lanes with automated tray retrieval technology; and introducing smart washrooms.
While BIAL recently announced a ten-year partnership with IBM and Kyndryl to provide it with “best of breed” IT solutions that will help transform the travel experience for passengers at Bengaluru Kempegowda.
BIAL notes that as one of the fastest-growing airports in the world, BLR needs nimble, scalable and cost-competitive technology and an operations environment that can increase its agility and operational flexibility to handle rising passenger numbers in the years ahead.
As a result, BIAL will work with IBM Global Business Services, IBM hybrid cloud capabilities and Kyndryl to create a platform that will take Kempegowda’s IT offerings to the next level at the same time as allowing the airport operator to improve employee productivity, better utilise its IT assets and reduce costs through streamlined inventory control and improved incident management.
“We are excited to partner with IBM as part of our vision to make BLR India’s first truly ‘smart airport’. In other words, a digitalised, seamlessly connected, intuitive airport,” says Marar.
“BIAL is a pioneer and leader of change in the Indian aviation industry. Our aim is to introduce more digitally advanced, innovative services and products at BLR to ensure that our passengers and business partners have the advantage of future forward technologies, in a seamless operating environment.”