Monday, June 13, 2016

Why I don’t prefer privatization of Chennai airport!

Chennai is one of the four mega cities in India along with Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. But Chennai’s airport is nowhere close to that of Mumbai or Delhi in terms of grandeur, façade and interiors. Main reason is that Delhi and Mumbai airports are upgraded and managed by profit oriented private companies (GMR, GVK and the likes) while Chennai and several other smaller airports are maintained by Govt Run AAI (Airport Authority of India).

Following are the concerns with Chennai Airport
-          Glass panels are known to collapse once in a while, reflecting on poor quality of materials and construction [Read news]
-          Monkeys, crows and pigeons sneak into the terminal once a while and may cause nuisance
-          Toilets are sometimes inadequate or not well maintained.
-          Checked in bags take forever to appear on conveyor belts
-          There is neither any beautiful façade on the outside of Chennai airport nor it has got great interiors inside. Building is pretty basic- not many spots to click that Instagram friendly selfie.

But following are the good things about Chennai airport
-          Free drinking water is available (you can carry an empty bottle and fill up, no need to buy 1 litre bottle for 3 times the MRP
-          It is inside the city and you can reach airport for 30 Rs or less thanks to public transportation
-          Airport fees are less- which enables budget airlines to offer cheap tickets. One can fly out of Chennai to Australia, Japan and rest of Asia for one third the price of a full service airline. You may get to book domestic flights to nearby cities at a price cheaper than AC bus tickets.

I have seen many individuals, including Kiruba Shankar suggest on FB/twitter that Chennai airport should be privatized and made at par with Delhi/Mumbai.

General belief is that Govt agencies are good for nothing and if privatized we can get better facilities and an airport which is worthy of Instagram pictures. However, I beg to differ. I do not prefer privatization of Chennai airport, for one simple reason that it will make flying out of Chennai much more expensive. Let me elaborate

1 Privatization increases ticket fares significantly
Profit hungry private players will charge more from the airlines- landing fee, gate fee, aerobridge fee, user development fee- all of these will have to be eventually borne by us, the customers who buy tickets. I have seen beautiful airports worldwide. There is no way Chennai can be another Changi or JFK or Dubai. At best it can match Mumbai and Delhi. I prefer to fly out of the airport cheap than feel pride in its beautiful building after paying more for my tickets.

For many who fly at someone else’s expense (office/invitees etc), increased ticket prices may not matter much. But when I book tickets with my own money, every hundred rupee counts. I don’t care about beautiful front façade of the airport as long as I can fly out cheap.

2 Many international Budget airlines do not fly out of Delhi/Mumbai, but do so from Chennai
Air Asia, Scoot and many such super cheap budget airlines fly out of Chennai today but not Delhi or Mumbai. Reason- cheaper airport fees in Chennai vs exorbitant fees in Delhi/Mumbai. Privatization implies immediate increase in airport fees, which will be passed on entirely to flying public. Each ticket will now be expensive by a few thousand rupees. If the airport fees are too much, budget airlines like Air Asia won’t be able to keep their ticket fares low and flying out of Chennai might not give them any cost leverage that can be passed on to customers. If an airport is expensive to operate, budget airlines will eventually pack off, shifting to some other airport nearby- may be Madurai, Vizag etc. Today thanks to airlines like Air Asia I am able to fly long distance to Australia, Japan, Bali etc at a cost one third of what full service airlines charge. Many of friends in Mumbai and Delhi often complain that they are unable to take advantage of these budget airlines, as Air Asia doesn’t fly out of Mumbai/Delhi. What is the point in having a flashy airport if you can’t fly out it cheap? If Air Asia packs off from Chennai after privatization, we will have to spend extra time/money to reach Madurai/Vijayawada/Vizag/Kochi or other nearby airports. At the minimum, be assured that ticket price will shoot up by a few thousand rupees.

3 Ever increasing cost of airport transfer.
Today I can reach Chennai airport for less than Rs 30- using public transportation (bus + train). If a new airport is to be built somewhere else far away, the cost of reaching airport can be as much as that of a short haul flight. Ask people of Bengaluru. Privatization will also result in increased parking fees, so taxi out of airport will cost more.

4 Privatization is no guarantee of high quality service/experience
Take example of toll roads. Toll roads are supposed to give us well maintained roads, congestion free vehicle movement, help save time and fuel. Is that really happening? No
-          Time you save on the highway is lost waiting in line at the toll booth
-          OMR toll road in Chennai gets flooded with one hour of rainfall and service road is either not yet ready in most areas or is poorly maintained.
-          NH4 between Chennai and Ranipet has lots of uneven patches, pot holes- poorly maintained and never repaired over years. Same is true between Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri. So quality may not be maintained
-          There is no relaxation on top speed on toll roads. Even if road is empty, even if it is perfectly safe to cruise at 120 kmph, you still need to stick to 80kmph or risk getting fined by traffic police. Because toll roads are probably only place where one get to go beyond 80, traffic police will wait here only with their speed guns. I would challenge them to make city roads drivable at 80kmph+ first and then try to catch speeding vehicles there.

Thus, what is the point of toll roads if there’re so many issues? I am better off with a decently maintained toll free road.

So you may be happy to pay more for better services and style, but I prefer to fly cheap with basic facilities.

By this post I don’t mean to say that falling glass panes in Chennai airport is justified, nor the poorly managed toilets. Of course we need basic safety, security and hygiene standards maintained. For this AAI should be made more accountable and efficient, than making the entire airport private. If Govt is to offload all its responsibilities to private players one by one, shouldn’t the tax I pay go down by proportionate amount?

Once operational, private operators will be keen to recover their investment asap and make more profit from flying public. They may not have any inclination to lower the fees or provide more services. In order to protect their commercial interests, they may take several counter measures (discouraging public transport to get more from taxi business, discontinuing free drinking water to make people buy bottle water and so on) all of which will directly affect your pocket.  
What is your take? Do you prefer to fly out of a great looking airport with better facilities at higher fare or do you prefer an airport with minimum standard services that enables cheaper flying? Let us debate.

Crores and Crores of tax payers money have already been dumped into Chennai airport and there are some expansion plans in place for Chennai Airport (Read news here and here). Let us see how it takes shape.

Similar: Best places to stay inside Changi Airport * Changi Challenge * Weekend destinations from Chennai  * 


Lakshmi said...

I agree with some of your points raised but l am a fan of privatisation and good infrastructure and I don't mind paying extra bucks if service is good

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Lakshmi for your time n comment.

Rajiv said...

While I would love to see better services at chennai Airport, a budge conscious traveler like me and you would anyday vote for a cheaper air ticket over better 'services'. Services we hardly bother to enjoy. If only the concerned deppts put in a lil more effort, I guess a lot of us would be happier.
Two cents.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Yes,we don't need flashy/fancy airport. But it should be decent and respectful enough.

Unknown said...

I would like to go with privatisation as the future demands it..:-)

The wild said...

Dates in August- First Chennai followed by Bangalore on right .There is free water in bangalore airport as well .

Difference in fares is 1600 Rupeees.
Fares 7,200 INR 8,182 INR
Airport Fee 305 INR 305 INR
Passenger Service Fee 234 INR 151 INR
User Development Fee 768 INR 1,411 INR
Arrival Tax 1,080 INR 1080
Krishi Kalyan Cess 14 INR 16 INR
Swacch Bharath Cess 14 INR 16 INR
India Service Tax 403 INR 458 INR
10,018 INR 11,619 INR

Predominantly India has lost its race in the aviation simply due to the fact that it ignored developing its airports.It could have been the dubai connecting the west and east-only if it had that forethought of developing airports for the longterm.If you think shortterm -you tend to keep bringing the bar down on all parameters or below the ground and countinue negative with full speed and so also the service which is precisely what has happened to chennai.You might be happy today with the lower fares but future generations will pay a very heavy price and make up with interest for your cheaper fares ,its a fact.There are no free meals and airports are not developed for free.

You cant imagine the amount of forex India would have gained had it been a hub like Dubai ,it would have transformed the airports -eventually paying itself for the upgrade.If you keep up with the crumbling infrastructure -it will spell disaster for everyone including the passenger -its only a matter of time.

Already bangalore has overtaken chennai in passenger numbers as well as cargo ,its not only about passenger fares but also about overall economic growth -trade and commerce.

Yes it will be cheaper if you dont service your car but one day the car will stop and possibly can never be repaired given that you never bothered to service it -since it was cheaper to run it without servicing.

Also bangalore airport was not as lucky as chennai ,it had space to park only 7 aircraft at the old aiport ,so they had to build a new airport.Now it handles 400 aircraft movements a day.So it it had thought of being as it was and not expanding probably i would have to come down to chennai to take a flight.

Also good to know that the Chennai aiport has set its own record on falling off for 63rd time ,i am sure it will take a while before any other airport can achieve this noble feat.

The wild said...

fares are for Chennai- Perth via KL ,forgot to add that piece of info in the comment

Sandeep Shande said...

Shrinidhi: these points holds good if you're resident of Chennai i.e. starting or ending your journey at Chennai. Based on my personal experiences at Chennai airport and other AAI operated airports, won't be good if you're there for transit for long hours. I had a bus-stand like experience at Chennai airport after returning from Colombo(which was with you 5 years back) and while waiting for my connecting flight to Bangalore for 4-5 hours.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Sandeep- I remember that trip!

Yes, we need better standards. Why can't AAI be made more accountable and responsible?

@The Wild- thanks for the detailed comment. I wish AAI learns to manage its properties better than washing off its hands and giving them to private companies.

al falah mj said...


Shrinidhi Hande said...