'Future expansion will make Bengaluru airport the new gateway to India'

Interview, Hari Marar, CEO, Bengaluru İnternational Airport


Terminal 2 (T2) of Bengaluru Airport represents a harmonious blend of modernity, technology, sustainability, and culture, providing a unique experience to all its passengers, says Bengaluru İnternational Airport CEO Hari Marar. Excerpts from the interview:

How did you hit upon the ‘garden’ concept for BLR Airport’s T2?

The idea behind Bengaluru Airport’s Terminal 2 (T2) was to build a tribute to the city of Bengaluru. The 2.5 lakh sq mt terminal is inspired by Bengaluru’s reputation as a garden city and tech capital of the country, while at the same time showcasing the rich history, heritage, and culture that the city stands for. While 'Terminal in a Garden' is one of the main guiding principles of T2, there are three other pillars that have guided the design and architecture of the new terminal - Technology, Art and Culture, and Sustainability. 

Featuring 180 rare, endangered plant species, 620 endemic plants, 7,700 transplanted trees, 150 palm species, 96 lotus species and 100 varieties of lilies, T2 will maintain a micro-climate that is two to three degrees lower than its surroundings. As a potential biodiversity hotspot, the new terminal has flora that is sourced from multiple ecological habitats and showcased on green walls, forest belt passages and bronze bells that are suspended from the ceiling. A smart auto irrigation system is used to maintain the plants, and all this is controlled using sensors through an app that is developed indigenously.

Our mission was to build a terminal that would create a unique "destination" experience for passengers. While it has lush greenery within and outside offering a visual delight, it also showcases how architecturally complex buildings integrate modern technological innovations with our heritage and are sustainable. Clad in brick, engineered bamboo, and glass, the terminal features a lot of natural lighting that is filtered through delicate lattices of bamboo which make the spaces rich and sensorial. Throughout the terminal and the area leading up to it, nature is weaved into every element giving passengers the experience of walking in a garden. 

Was the idea always to set it apart from the cookie-cutter airport terminal format of steel-and-glass of the past two decades?

Airport terminals across the world have always been designed as functional entities, but when we knew we had to build a new terminal to cater to the increasing passenger traffic, we realised that this was an opportunity to offer something unique and unforgettable. T2 represents a harmonious blend of modernity, technology, sustainability, and culture, providing a unique experience to all its passengers. It strives to be a model for ecological and culturally sensitive airport design.

Do you think the concepts of sustainability, eco-friendliness that T2 embraced will become a global standard?

If progress is not sustainable then it is not the right kind of progress. Our initiatives like rainwater harvesting means we replenish more water than we use. Another significant achievement is the creation of six rainwater-fed ponds (23 hectares) that are filled with 413 million litres of water that cater to the requirements of the airport. Our campus also has multipurpose lagoons where pollutants are cleaned naturally. Our current energy savings are at 24.9 per cent, courtesy of the use of solar panels and natural sky lighting.

T2 was designed to be a benchmark in sustainability, and being pre-certified with a Platinum LEED rating by USGBC (US Green Building Council) prior to commencing operations validates our efforts towards sustainability. We hope that the initiatives that we have taken demonstrate that eco-friendliness and sustainability can become global standards in the aviation industry.

T2 has emphasised the need to ‘soothe frayed nerves’ of a traveller, with the use of greenery and artwork etc. How significant do you consider these elements to an airport terminal? I mean, spacious terminals and faster and smoother check-in, immigration, security etc. may just work better in this respect, wouldn’t you say?

Studies have shown that exposure to natural elements, such as greenery and daylight, can reduce stress and improve well-being, which can be beneficial for passengers who may experience anxiety or fatigue during their journey. T2 has been designed with a focus not only on nature and greenery but also on visual aesthetics with its thoughtfully curated art and décor, providing a calming and refreshing experience.

BLR T2 offers more than just aesthetics; to ensure a faster and smoother travel experience, innovation and technology have been applied rationally to make the passenger experience simplified, seamless and effortless. From entry into the airport until boarding the aircraft, passengers can experience an easy check-in process, faster security check and convenient boarding. IoT, AI, and ML technologies are installed in strategic places to help direct passengers to the facilities across the airport which would help reduce passenger anxiety. BLR Airport is one of the first airports in the world on a Software Defined Network, effectively automating the ICT network equipment deployment and management with in-built security features.

The fact remains that peak hours and seasons may still find both terminals choc-a-block, especially considering the boom in domestic air travel expected in the coming months and years. Where do you think the solution lies?

Fortunately, a second terminal with a capacity of 25 million passengers per annum (means) our peak hour and annual capacity (is) well ahead of the demand that is estimated for the next couple of years. 

Typically, airport terminals are designed for a capacity that should be able to meet the peak load for over 99 per cent of the time in a year. It is to be noted that designing to the busiest hour may lead to overbuilding infrastructure with significant cost implications for users (airlines and passengers). Essentially, we believe that the solution lies in a pragmatic approach wherein airports strike an optimal balance between the scale of development, level of service offered to passengers and cost to be passed onto consumers.

The queue management system that is integrated with our analytics platform DICE helps us get real-time information about the waiting time at different passenger touchpoints. We get the expected passenger load for the next day and thus using the data we can identify the peak hours and probable bottlenecks in advance and manage our operations accordingly.

What are the longer-term expansion plans you have in mind for BLR?

T2 in its present form has a capacity of 25 million passengers and is already handling domestic operations with international operations expected to shift later this year. Once operations at Terminal 2 stabilise, we plan to refurbish Terminal 1 (T1) and convert it into a pure domestic passenger terminal with an estimated capacity of approximately 35 million. This will be followed by Phase 2 of T2, which will increase its capacity to 45 million and take BIAL’s (total) passenger handling capacity to nearly 80 million. Based on traffic triggers, we will look to add a third terminal to meet our estimated saturation capacity.

The upcoming Multi Modal Transport Hub (MMTH) just outside the terminal is another significant project. It is not only a junction where passengers can switch between multiple transportation systems like public transport buses, taxis, private cars, sub-urban railways & metro connectivity, but will also serve as a retail and event hub thereby reimagining the role an airport can play in a city. 

In addition to the passenger terminal buildings and MMTH, the other large-scale projects that we plan to execute are Western Taxiway, which will allow for better airside infrastructure utilisation, and the Airport City. Bengaluru Airport City Limited (BACL), a wholly owned subsidiary of BIAL, is developing an Airport City to standards that will be unprecedented – a futuristic city that will embrace innovation and will be a multi-asset destination. All these expansion plans should enable us to live up to our vision of becoming the ‘new gateway to India’.

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