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The Sky is The Limit

The Sky is The Limit

Bangalore International Airport CEO on the challenges of building a greenfield airport

Nobody likes change. Especially when the media's looking over your shoulder and your project needs to meet deadline.

But when you're Albert Brunner change and expansion seem to come with the territory. Take for example, the role he played in the planning and realization of Zurich Airport's expansion program, a US$2 billion project. And more recently with the Bengaluru International Airport. He was forced to expand the airport significantly - when it was already a third complete - with the opening date telescoping into view.

The airport veteran of 17 years took these bumps in his stride and even got the additional US$2 billion required for the expansion. But the larger challenge of setting up a greenfield airport - his first - and ensuring that it was scalable would test him.

Expansion and change have underlined the importance of scalability for BIAL. And they take scalability seriously. Take for example, how the airport has created shared check-in counters - allowing them to be used by multiple airlines and scale to meet peak-hour traffic.

Scalability is a lesson that will go a long way as BIAL starts planning its second phase and it's a lesson new airports would do well to heed.

What challenges did you face building a greenfield airport?

Albert Brunner: Building a private greenfield airport in India is much more than a construction project. It requires setting up a new legal framework, coping with the huge pressures that arise out of deadline, and recruiting and training personnel from a talent pool that has limited experience in airport management. It also means selecting partners like caterers, ground handlers, retailers, etcetera, who can provide service in par with the highest international standards. It isn't possible to realize such a project on time without the full dedication and support of thousands of people and the authorities.

Can you be more specific?

We had to redesign the airport while it was under construction. When the project was designed, we anticipated approximately five million passengers in our first year. However, by the time we started construction we had already hit this figure. The big challenge was to increase the project significantly - while it was under construction - without jeopardizing the initial opening date.

The redesign process - with all the formal approvals - took over nine months. By the time the increased project was approved almost one-third of the construction was complete. Completing the redesigned project within the original deadline of 30 months was even more of a challenge. Then there is the cost. Due to the redesign, the project's cost rose...and this is just the first phase of the project.

What about partners?

Choosing the right partners was also important. BIAL pioneered a partner selection process. BIAL believes that competition among airport service providers like cargo, ground handling, food & beverage, fuel, etcetera, is the best way to achieve quality, efficiency and continuous innovation. Therefore, we focused on selecting the right partners and ensuring healthy competition among them rather than offer in-house services.

We had to do this while simultaneously building the BIAL organization. Less than three years ago, we were just a six-member team, today we have grown to over 500 employees. You must remember that the expansion of air transport in India is amongst the fastest in the world and there is a scarcity of experienced personnel. The challenge was not just to find appropriately-educated people, but appropriately-educated people with loyalty, dedication and, most importantly, with experience in airport operations and airport marketing.

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