Bangalore's IT industry faces new hurdle with airport move

Air travellers working in India's outsourcing industry may have to spend two to four hours on Bangalore congested roads to get to and from the airport

Bangalore, India's outsourcing hub, has been grappling with poor roads, traffic jams, and power cuts. From Friday, the city's outsourcing and other industries in the city have to cope with a new problem -- a new, and distant, airport.

Staff working in the city's outsourcing industry, who travel extensively within the country and abroad, will have to travel about 40 kilometers more on average to the city's new airport, called Bengaluru International Airport (BIA).

As a result of the additional distance, air travellers may have to spend two to four hours on the city's congested roads to get to and from the airport, according to various estimates.

The city's older airport is scheduled to stop receiving commercial air traffic on Friday. This move is in line with an agreement between the government and the investors in the new airport, which has been set up in a remote suburb of the city called Devanahalli.

The city's business leaders and some other citizens are demanding that both airports be allowed to operate, with the older airport on the outskirts of the city at least handling short-distance traffic to and from Bangalore. The Bangalore City Connect Foundation (BCCF), an organization set up by Bangalore's citizens, is demanding that government renegotiate its contract with BIA to allow for the continued operation of the old airport for some traffic.

Industry representatives, including some from outsourcer Infosys Technologies, took to the streets on Saturday to protest the closure of the older airport. Its closure will affect the growth of the city's business as the new airport is not designed to meet new projections of passenger growth, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman and managing director of biotechnology company Biocon, told reporters.

Almost 30 per cent of IT industry workers in Bangalore travel outside India at least once a quarter, said T.V. Mohandas Pai, director of human resources and a member of the board at Infosys.

But some analysts say the new airport, though inconveniently located, is not likely to affect Bangalore's outsourcing business.

"The old airport could not handle the growing traffic, and it will be a temporary blip as people adjust to the new reality," said Siddharth Pai, a partner at outsourcing consultancy firm Technology Partners International (TPI).

Customers who travel all the way from the U.S. or Europe to visit outsourcing companies in Bangalore are not going to change their minds because of an extra two or three hour drive, Pai said. Likewise, software engineers travelling abroad will, after some grumbling, leave early to catch their flights, he added.

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