Featured Posts

Friday, March 28

CIAL: An enthralling success story

Among the calamitous array of infrastructural glitches we stumble across in Kerala, stand one illustrious model waiting to be emulated across the globe. The inspiring story of the Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) in Nedumbassery.

In the road or railway development front, Kerala cuts a dismal picture with 2-laned pothole filled congested 'highways' and sporadically doubled, mostly unelectrified rail lines. Things appear better in air travel with the presence of 3 international airports in the small state. But things weren't so rosy when the idea of a new airport was conceived as early as 1992.

The airport which existed on the Wellington Island inside Cochin city limits became chronically disabled with space constraints and geographical barriers providing little scope for development. The thoughts for a greenfield airport were born and against all odds this massive project took off in early 1998. The usual incessant roadblocks in the form of land acquisition or political foul plays were dealt promptly and astutely and the airport opened its skies for the first aircraft landing on June 10th 1999.

CIAL from the air

The airport immediately struck national headlines as the first private airport in India and also as a major infrastructural project built using people's money. It was the first PPP(Private-public-partnership) project undertaken on a big scale with 74% of the cost raised from NRIs. Kerala has exhibited something never witnessed before in India: a new state-of-the-art international airport in 800 acres at just 230 crores INR!!!

Interestingly, as the airport enters the second decade of service, a similar one planned along with it in Bangalore is still limping its way to the finishing point.

CIAL has, over the years, become a bookmark on a multitude of aspects. From its traditional architecture, professionalism in management, streamlined and passenger friendly service to the landmark model of execution, CIAL has become a reference for any such project planned in the future.

But at the first place what had made this project a resounding success unlike the despondent public sector tragedy tales we have around us?

Political willpower was a key element in CIAL's success. The airport is indebted to K. Karunakaran and his guiles in people relations. The powerful Cochin business community was all-hands-in for the project. The inspiring, influential and thoughtful CEO in V.J. Kuryan IAS made sure that the customary red tapism was minimal. His vision and skills have laid the foundations for the airport.They also succeeded in making the media work positively for the project, rather than against. A huge no of NRI population involved just meant that the weapons of the distractors were dented. Together this political-administartive-business alliance scripted what now has become a feather in the cap of Kerala's development.

A striking feature of CIAL is the way it went in doing business. Kerala has never been a big business destination and the airports survived mainly on the Kerala community in the middle east. CIAL would keep the existing customer base and also exploit more on one of Kerala's strongholds: its natural beauty. CIAL was probably the first airport to formulate an organized plan to attract tourists to Kerala, but not entirely dependent on chartered flights. Road networks to major destinations including Munnar and Kodaikanal were envisaged.

Connectivity was one of the major advantages enjoyed by CIAL over other regional rivals. Apart from the central location in the state, CIAL has proximity to NH 47 and MC Road, the two major highways in Kerala. The Ernakulam-Shornur railway line borders the western side of the airfield and a new railway station is planned for the airport city. CIAL has even drafted an outrageous idea to rejuvenate the canal bypassing the terminals, make it navigable and connect it to the National Waterway; if it materializes CIAL will hold the unique status of being accessible through road, rail and water.

Now CIAL set about making its foundations more stronger, in other words strengthening its commercial background. In early 2000 Cochin was still struggling to shrug off its tag as a small city, a mini-metro, even though it constituted the industrial backbone of Kerala. The idea of a SEZ, with CIAL and the proposed Container Terminal in Vallarpadam as fulcrum was mooted. The new road connecting the two focal points was inaugurated in 2003, christened the Seaport-Airport Road. This highway is already rewriting the horoscope of Cochin and in the next phase it will connect the IT City blossoming on its corridors to the Airport.

One highly appreciates the foresight of V.J. Kuryan and his team on witnessing the airport development plans, almost 10 years after inauguration. He even awarded the construction of boundary wall to six different contractors to speed up work. His vision of a fully fledged airport city is slowly taking shape in Nedumbassery and when complete it will become the first Aerotropolis in India consisting of an 18 hole golf-course, IT Parks, Shopping arenas, residential avenues, star & budget hotels and more.

Perhaps this Aerotropolis would hopefully become a benchmark in urban planning, unlike the planning mishap that is called Cochin now. And this can also be an eyeopener to the bunnys of the much touted Bangalore International Airport who have finished an airport without a proper approach road!

Today, the airport ranks 4th in India in the no: of Int'l travallers. Over 16000 domestic customers flew out of Cochin last year and the numbers are growing, but still modest. The shot-in-the-arm needed is the commencement of an Airline with Cochin as its hub. A dream perhaps unlikely in the near future, but if realized will propel CIAL into the league it never dreamt of. Kingfisher Airlines will make Bangalore an International Transit Airport very soon. With a huge diaspora of Keralites across the globe, CIAL has all the ingredients to metamorphose into a transit hub. The proposed Kerala Airlines would help further...

I've a feeling that time has come for CIAL to aim for the stars. A report I came across the other day claimed that CIAL is constructing an exclusive A380 hanger. First I thought it extravagant, but with Kingfisher awaiting International License and the super-jumbo order in place, CIAL would ideally be a second base and hub for the growing airline giant. It would turn out to be a boon for the millions of expats in Europe or America who had been longing for a direct Kerala touchdown for long. Not to mention the trade and tourism windows opening furthur!

More challenges mean more severe tests to the capability of the Airport visionaries to see beyond...

The Airport must be made ready to handle the biggest of the birds; with the ever expanding Indian Aviation scenario and the prospect of more A380s traversing Indian skies, the airport must be fully compatible as per industry standards. (CIAL claims it is A380 compatible, but from the preparations I've seen in Frankfurt, it is not even 20% there.)

Improved connectivity to and from the city. Metro rail must reach Nedumbasserry, along with the Railway station and boat terminals planned.

Blueprints for a second runway and conjointed infrastructure improvements have to be drafted before the airport reach choking figures. And if the runway recarpeting works are planned in the same way as it is being done now, then 'God save the Queen', that's all we can say!

CIAL is now contemplating the idea of emulating its success story inside and outside India. Recently it received a proposal to build a similar airport in Srilanka. As it is spanning out, CIAL's intent to own and operate at least 5 airports by the end of 2020 is gradually realizing. The Cochin International Airport is certainly becoming the diamond in the Queen's necklace.

Monday, March 24

Foundations on quicksand

"The things that will destroy us are:
politics without principle;
pleasure without conscience;
wealth without work;
knowledge without character;
business without morality;
science without humanity;
and worship without sacrifice."


I've seen this quote many times in my life, on books, banks, business establishments, offices and even uttered by the lousy politicians. This is one strong message, which I feel, must be instilled into generations to inculcate values in the society.

Business without morality has been deemed as a 'social crime' by Mahatma Gandhi. The lack of conscience and ethics has led to many innocent people fall victim to the immoral business men's guiles, the latest one being actress Navya Nair.

A leading Cochin-based builder has allegedly cheated the Malayalam film actress by luring her into purchasing an apartment in one of their listless 'projects', for which they never received any approval. Since the famed actress's tears had value, it hit the newsdecks and the obscene 'homebuilders' are on the run.

But the filmstar isn't the only person swindled by these outlaws.

Obviously she is just one among the many unfortunates who invested their sweat and blood into the dream home they were promised. And the Builder in the frame are not the only blackhands in the booming real estate industry who rob their customers in broad daylight, making a mockery of the laws & enforcements.

Not long ago, a mother and son committed suicide when they discovered that their brand new apartment in Kazhakkuttam had serious leakages & structural problems. A frontline builder was sued by a Trivandrum based businessman after the builder failed to deliver the apartment on time. Almost a decade now, that building still stands unfinished (but is marked as a completed project in the company's website). Another major builder is notorious for their deviation from approved plans; as a result the units remain without Corporation numbers and ultimately with no Water or Electricity connection. The luckless inhabitants survive on Generator power and raw pumped lake water in one of the apartment buildings. They eventually end up paying the hefty fine to the authorities for the atrocity committed by the builder. A good no of builders doesn't provide the amenities they have so extravagantly described in their brochure. And about the aftercare of the apartments, the less said the better...

The shocking factor in the above cases is that the Builders in the frame are allowed to carry on their immoral tactics. Not even a lone finger has been raised by the concerned authorities. Those concerned at the Kerala Builder's Forum (KBF)came out condemning such illegal activities, but they themselves harbour the culprits. All the above mentioned 'homebuilders' (or homebreakers?) are members of KBF.

A home is every person's dream and usually takes a lifetime to realize. These fugitives have broken many a dreams and are still let loose...and they are conditioned into habitual trickery.

Navya Nair can still consider herself fortunate that she still has a chance to rebuild her dreams. But what about the hundreds of NRIs, professionals, Govt servants and traders who learned that the foundations of their dreams were built on quicksand?

Friday, March 7

The Espionage Theory

The news report about the ban of Google Mappers from US Military bases prompted me to write this post.

Sometime back I asked my sister who works in the HAL Airport in Bangalore to mail me some snaps of the airport interiors, flight landings and take offs. To my surprise she replied
that photography was prohibited in the Airport; whats more, she wasn't even allowed to use her mobile cam. A policeman even made her delete the image of a Lufthansa Jumbo jet parked on the tarmac, citing security concerns.

I thought it might be because of the fact that the HAL Airport also had a military component attached to it. I myself had similar experience at Trivandrum Int'l Airport, where Southern Air Command was operating. Perfectly understandable, and as patriotic citizens we wont indulge in acts which compromise national security.

But it doesn't mask the fact that some of these regulations are turning really silly...

Just enter Bangalore Airport images on any search engine and you will get an overwhelming no: of photos of the airport, layout, runways, flights, interiors and whatever you need. Websites offer more than enough details of all the airports in the world. Even worse, tools like Google Earth & Google Map are making an absolute mockery of the 'security laws' we have around us.

HAL Airport, Bangalore in Google Earth

I'm a member of the online community Skyscrapercity, which is a first class arena for urban photos and discussions. That explains my interest in Bangalore Airport photos. The utter asinine nature of the rules are blown wide open if you view the photo galleries in the site. Thousands of pics taken from the aircrafts, tarmac and terminals lay tribute to the agile & efficient forumers.

Leave aside airports, one of the members even reported that he was reprimanded when trying to secure some snaps of the Big Bazaar, a cheap-commodity supermarket in downtown Trivandrum! Me and my friends landed in hot water after posing for a group photo in Mumbai'sVictoria Terminus a few years back. Lastly, the revelation that Trivadrum Airport departure area was also a 'no photography' zone thoroughly confused me.

What could be the real issues behind these restrictions?

Security reasons?
Violation of personal space?
Superannuated laws?
or simple ignorance?

The last choice appeals most to me.

What else would obstruct a young girl from picturing a modern commercial jetliner resting on the parking bay?

Whatever, I myself have scores of photographs taken from the Int'l Airport terminals of Frankfurt, Zurich, Dublin, Geneva, middle east countries and even the LTTE infested Colombo. Nobody Zurich Int'l Airport
raised an eyebrow; some snaps were even taken for me by security officials. But when it comes to aamchi India, the camera turns a potential grenade.

Perhaps our folks haven't yet seen the Google Earth or Flikr...