In 2018, AAI released it’s plans for a modern retail environment at the upcoming integrated Terminal building at Chennai Airport, sandwiched between the existing Domestic and International Terminal buildings. The new terminal, along with a lot of development on the airside, including rapid exit taxiways, secondary runways and latest Instrument Landing Systems would facilitate over 400-450 flight movements a day. Direct flights to the US, to SFO and New York would have been a possibility serving passengers on both sides. But Covid-19 applied brakes on all such plans.
What was meant to be a facility to cater over 35 million passengers per annum from the current 21 million has declines to an average of less than 10 million due to continued lockdowns by the TN Government as well as Domestic air travel taking a huge hit all along the past 15 months. Travel Retail, which includes Shopping, Dining, ForEx and fleet transportation have all nosedived for the entity bleeding existing operators who were already not getting enough business due to cramped retail areas which were neither designed aesthetically nor from a commercially rewarding point of view.
There were an estimated 100 outlets between the two terminals which have now folded up almost completely but for the few F&B outlets which are being managed by TFS, one of India’s largest Airport F&B management companies which also operates its flagship business at Delhi Airport as well as at Mumbai, Chandigarh among others. During the pandemic period, many consumers at airports (read: passengers) have completely avoided snacking or consuming beverages at airports for safety and hygiene reasons as well as exorbitant prices although TFS has maintained world class standards with regards to food quality, preparation and service.
The new Integrated Terminal is expected to house 140 Check-In counters, 38 CUTE Terminals for self-check-in before boarding, 108 Immigration counters and 10 baggage counters. Retailers and passengers were expecting a huge improvement (pre-pandemic era) in the offering and related services once the new Terminal began operations but it is not the case anymore. The Terminal work has been progressing on a slow mode and is expected to be completed by Dec. ‘21 as against a target completion date of Sep. ‘21. however, even when completed, the terminal would Hardly have any passengers as compared to it’s capacity.
On another note, Chennai’s airport which is among the oldest in India and is in the 3rd or 4th place sharing honours with Bangalore with regards to passenger flying annually after Delhi and Mumbai was expected to have a new Airport, either run by AAI or on PPP model. The DMK Government had identified space on the Bangalore National Highway which could propel industrial activity as well as create a new suburban metropolitan region. However, that project never took off subsequently. Over the past 5 years, there were talks of a new Airport at Mamandur, 80kms south of Chennai on the Trichy National Highway, but even that has been shelved for the time being due to the ongoing pandemic situation.
It is estimated that Indian Aviation has been set behind by 2 years now, which means the the pre-pandemic air traffic would be restored fully only by 2024. Till then, the new terminal would have lesser wear and tear, perhaps.