“When will India catch up?” was the frequent comment from arriving passengers at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. This was three years ago when they stood in long queues for immigration control and baggage claim in bland halls with erratic air conditioning. If they arrived during the last 37 months, they had to put with with scaffolding, construction materials, workmen and noise as the new airport was being built round the clock.
"An airport is often the first introduction to a country. A good airport will signal a new India, committed to joining the ranks of modern industrialised nations," said India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, at its opening of the swanky Terminal Three (T3) of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in July after seven days of religious ceremonies involving 300 priests.
Earlier, when passengers arrived from the west from New York, Toronto and London; or from the east from Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Kaula Lampur and Dubai; they would get a culture shock on entering the Indian airports. No more as India has caught up.
“Wow!” could be the first response when they now land at the state-of-the-art, fully integrated new terminal. The humongous steel and glass T3 extends over 5.4 million square feet, has 78 gates or aero-bridges, 97 automatic walkways or Travelors and five-level baggage screening system with a capacity to handle12,800 bags per hour, 215,000 square feet of retail space and parking for 4,300 cars in a multi-level building connected to T3 with covered walkways.
T3 has nine parking slots for the world's biggest double-decker Airbus A380 plane, six more than London's Heathrow. Covering 20 acres, T3 is the largest public building, with a length of 1.2 kms from end to end, constructed since India's independence in 1947. T3 was completed in 37 months by GMR Group Fraport, and other entities, compared with the 45 months China took to build the terminal in Beijing before the 2008 Olympics. Costing $2.8 billion, it can handle 75 planes in an hour with the latest the latest CAT-III runway landing system and 97 moving walkways.
T3 is a showcase of India's public and private partnership as the construction company, GMR, and the Delhi International Airport Authority interacted with over 50 government and semi-government organisations and yet managed to complete the project in record time. T3 makes good use of natural light and is designed to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly terminal with nearly one million plants and trees planted in 70 acres around the structure. Electricity in T3 will be fueled by municipal waste. T3 ranks among the top ten in the world. In addition to Delhi, new airports have been built for Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune, among others.
Gliding over Travelors at T3, the passengers enter the massive arrivals lounge. They may well be flabbergasted at the sheer size and the imposing sculptures of 'mudras' or postures of feminine hands fixed over golden discs. Under these 'mudras' are 95 immigration counters with smartly dressed officers in gray blazers and blue ties to process their passports. Depending on your passport as a diplomat, an Indian national, a foreigner or an overseas Indian, you will be directed to the right counter. If the arriving overseas Indians have a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) or an OCI (Overseas Indian Citizen) booklet, they can be cleared quickly at special PIO-OIC counters.
Once they move out from passport control to the baggage claim concourse, their bags are most likely to be moving to be picked up on one of the 14 conveyor belts. If a passenger has nothing to declare, he/she breezes through customs and enters the arrivals hall. A host of services are on hand here from taxis, car rental, hotels, currency exchange, telephones, shopping, a food court and lots more.
By the end of this year, the passengers can ride the direct Delhi Metro Airport Express (DAME) link from this airport to the city centre. In less than half an hour ride on this most modern rapid transit system in the world, he/she will be in Rajiv Chowk (Connought Circus). Passengers can get a cab to take the eight-lane highway with numerous flyovers to reach the city centre in less than half an hour.
The departure from Delhi airport will be no ordeal either. Gone are the chaotic scenes at the entrance gates to the departures lounge, the hassle of getting security checks for baggage, the long waiting at check in counters and immigration control. Once the baggage is checked in, it is screened for security and so there is no need to load it on the screening machine and then lug it to the check-in counter. No long wait for checking in either as T3 has 168 check-in counters, 95 immigration counters and the capacity to handle 34 million passengers per year. In case a passenger's flight is delayed or cancelled, a 100-bed hotel is right within this complex to rest or catch up on sleep.
After experiencing all these luxuries, arriving passengers at T3 will may well exclaim, “Oh, boy! India has arrived!”