INDIA. In a landmark day for Indian aviation the new greenfield Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad near Hyderabad was inaugurated by Sonia Ghandi, President of the Indian National Congress and Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, on Friday.

But the euphoria of the inauguration was dampened by subsequent news that the airport’s opening today [Sunday] had been subject to a last-minute delay. In an unexpected turn of events, the Ministry of Civil Aviation issued a notification overriding its earlier notification to shut down the old airport at Begumpet in Hyderabad.

GMR-Hyderabad International Airport Ltd said in a statement: “The new Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) is ready in all aspects. We understand that some airlines have approached the Ministry of Civil Aviation seeking more time to begin operation from RGIA.

Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad – “the dream of Hyderabad”

“Acceding to their requests, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has advised us to begin operations in a few days. We will intimate the new date and will commence operations soon.”

The news is a blow to the GMR group as well as its commercial concessionaires such as HMS Host (food & beverage) and the retail alliance between The Nuance Group and Shoppers’ Stop. Local reports in India said the delayed opening is due to differences that have arisen between low-cost cost airlines and the airport developers on the issue of ground handling. Airlines such as Spice Jet, Go Air, Indigo and Paramount reportedly wanted to continue their own ground handling as they did at Hyderabad’s existing airport. But GMR is insistent the carriers use the two companies it has appointed – Menenzis and AI Sats – to handle this business.

The new international airport maintains Hyderabad’s long and proud history of aviation development

News of the delay mirrors events in Bangalore where the opening of the much-anticipated new Bengaluru International Airport has been moved back to 11 May from its planned 30 March debut. These hiccups underline once again the complexity of implementing such ambitious change in India’s aviation sector.

Friday’s ceremony was a colourful and poignant affair, with Sonia Gandhi – the widow of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandi who was assassinated in 1991 – inaugurating the airport in the presence of Chief Minister Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and Minister of Civil Aviation Praful Patel.

Mrs Gandhi described the event as momentous not only for Hyderabad but for the entire nation. She recalled her husband’s association with Hyderabad, where he took advanced training in aviation. “˜”˜Rajiv would have been happy, had he been here today,” she said.

In her address, she paid tribute to the thousands of workers who had toiled to make “the dream of Hyderabad” come true.

GMR Group Chairman GM Rao explained the facilities available at the new airport while Minister Patel said the hoped that improved aviation facilities would trigger economic growth.

“˜”˜No longer is air travel restricted to the elite. Even ordinary farmers can fly, and moreso they could augment income by exporting farm produce to the cities in India and abroad where they would get a better price,” he said.

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