KOLKATA: President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday called for efficient management and administration of the new integrated terminal in Kolkata so that passenger services are on a par with airports around the world. Air India will operate the first flight to London via Delhi from the new terminal on Wednesday morning.
Reminding airport authorities present at the terminal's inauguration that while they had done a great job in building a world-class facility, they were now faced with the tougher challenge of providing quality service, the President pointed out that the reputation of the entire country was at stake.
"The first impression of a traveller about a country is the treatment he gets at the airport he lands in. The same is true about a domestic traveller who is visiting Kolkata for the first time. You have to be courteous and at your best behaviour," Mukherjee emphasized.
Having spent a considerable time in the city, both in his student life and thereafter in his long political career, Mukherjee is well aware of the city's poor work culture and lack of ownership in public assets. The difference is clearly visible in the maintenance of buses bought under the JNNURM scheme a couple of years ago. While those operated by private parties are in decent shape, the ones run by government bus corporations are on the verge of turning into scrap.
The issue has been playing on the minds of the AAI brass. Realizing that its staff is ill-equipped to maintain the new terminal, it has opted for private agencies. AAI is also considering a tie-up with a foreign operator to improve the quality of operations and maintenance at its airports. Changi Airport Group (Singapore) Pte Ltd and Die Flughafen Zurich AG, the operator of Kloten Airport in Switzerland's Zurich, have expressed interest in joining hands with AAI.
Mukherjee said there was no inherent contradiction between private and public sector investment, pointing out that Kolkata and Chennai had been an exception to the overall view that development of large airports should be done by the private sector so that the state exchequer was not pressured.
In fact, Mukherjee faced a glitch at the high-profile function that left AAI officials red-faced. At 7.12pm, when he pressed the button to inaugurate Netaji's 18-foot bronze statue sculpted by Ram Sutar, the curtains would not budge. Neither did the video feed from the statue installed barely 200 meters away get telecast. When the President finally gave up, the image of red curtains encircling the statue hit the screens briefly before disappearing. AAI staff then rushed to the statue site to pull down the stubborn curtains. Finally, at 7.23pm, the image of the 'unveiled' statue hit the twin screens.
Terming the terminal a "New Year gift to the city", chief minister Mamata Banerjee thanked everyone associated with the project. She urged AAI to get more airlines to the city, now that it had a world-class terminal. "Bengal is the new destination for investors and tourists," she said, before turning to Mukherjee and urging his intervention in enabling night-landing facility at Bagdogra airport. Currently, flights are allowed within restricted hours in the day at this airfield that is under the control of the Indian Air Force.