Fragmented terminal model poses a challenge to airlines; may impair India's emergence as a hub

Asia's Tech News Daily

#airlines, #aviation, #Business, #India, #Travel

On Wednesday, October 20, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport was to restart operations at its Terminal 1 (T1). In July, Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport restarted operations at T2 as traffic started returning in the aftermath of the two waves of the pandemic. On October 31, 2021, American Airlines will launch flights to New Delhi in a code-share agreement with IndiGo.

Yet, Indian airport infrastructure has one peculiar problem that will be act as an inhibitor to India’s emergence as an aviation hub — fragmented operations across terminals for domestic and international flights.


For years, India only had two major airline gateways — Mumbai and Delhi. At both, international and domestic flight operations were separated across terminals. When Delhi commissioned T3 and Mumbai made T2 operational, it was the first time that full service carriers (FSCs) operated at a single terminal. Low cost carriers (LCCs) had not started flying on International routes in 2010 when T3 was inaugurated at Delhi.

Slowly, LCCs played catch-up and started flying on overseas routes. With initial efforts to offer international services from T1 stymied by security concerns and other issues, IndiGo and SpiceJet started operating on international routes from T3 at Delhi and T2 at Mumbai.

When Bengaluru airport started operations, the integrated terminal model was put to test in the true sense. The swing gates and a design that enabled use of the same terminal for international and domestic flights, based on the time of the day and need, helped, the airport quickly ran out of space as air traffic grew exponentially. Bengaluru is set to get a new terminal that will be dedicated to international flights in a throwback to the old airport design in India.

The design was pro-FSC until April 2019 when Jet Airways shut down and its slots were distributed among other carriers. LCCs then became even more powerful in the Indian skies and occupied space at terminals that was hitherto earmarked for FSCs.

The challenge

Every country has its own rules and in India, on arrival, passengers complete immigration and customs formalities at the first point of entry (except for those arriving by certain flights of Air India). Passengers have to then work their way towards the check-in for the next flight! Delhi, the largest airport in the country, has three terminals with all international arrivals and departures being handled at T3, irrespective of the airline.

Terminal 2 handles flights from Go First (which does not have a code-share or interline agreement with any carrier) and select flights from IndiGo. Terminal 1 only handles flights of IndiGo and Go First.

With India becoming predominantly an LCC landscape, code-shares with LCCs are becoming common. The old concept of a terminal that is preserved for the international and domestic operations of FSCs is no longer valid. Turkish, Qatar and American have code-share agreements with IndiGo, Emirates and SpiceJet have announced one and more could be in the pipeline.

At Delhi and Mumbai, one has to take long bus rides to travel from one terminal to another. When Terminal 2 at Bengaluru is up and running, international operations will move there. The situation is better at Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata; the connections are within walking distances and do not require transport.

Tail Note

Imagine landing from New York’s JFK at Delhi, clearing immigration and customs and realising one has to catch a shuttle bus to T1 for the next leg of the journey. That is not an experience anyone would welcome.

Towards the end of its operations, Jet Airways launched a flight to Singapore from Pune. The flight connected well with one arriving from Abu Dhabi and some passengers booked the connection. To their horror, they found that an international flight from Abu Dhabi to Singapore needed immigration formalities to be cleared in Pune.

This at a terminal that has just two entrances, leave aside separate buildings!

As India aspires to become a hub for international travel and attract traffic from Middle Eastern and European hubs, traffic will have to be routed via Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, among others, in the initial phase; these airports will have to compete with Dubai, Doha, Frankfurt, London and other hubs.

If you have to land from somewhere and take a rickety public transport bus to change terminals before boarding your international flight, passengers would look at other options from their city or the nearest one for hassle-free transit and the perk of a better duty-free and shopping experience.

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