AS A retired official of the International Civil Aviation Organisation responsible for the facilitation of passengers and cargo at international and domestic airports around the world, I was interested in the number of articles (November 5, 6 and 7) on the modernisation of Indian airports, the expansion of Chennai's domestic and international terminals, Airports Authority of India's plans and its Expression of Interest to global design architects, as well as the report on the remarkable success story of Kochi's International (Greenfield) airport. I was particularly interested in the key measures for improvement listed in one of the articles. I have been disappointed at the off-balance mindset of our airport authorities on security - more to be publicly seen to be doing the security check than effectively achieving it, with minimum inconvenience to the passengers and their well-wishers.
India is one of the few countries, if not the only one, where passengers' baggage-to-be-checked is subjected to pre-screening before being presented at the airline check-in counter. This procedure causes unnecessary bottlenecks in the limited departure area. Now, there is the welcome plan to add 12,000 sq m (for both departure and arrival areas) at Anna International Airport, Chennai. If, say, 600 sq m of this is taken up by the four or five (maybe more) scanning machines at the very entrance, what a waste? If these huge machines are done away with (at that location), the space thus released could well be utilised for the comfort of the departing passengers and their buddies seeing them off. If there is no pre-screening and the passengers could go straight to the check-in counters (and free themselves of their baggage), that will release the entire area of the departure lounge for the free movement of all. The well-wishers, instead of having to take leave at the entrance to the departure area (some two and a half hours before departure) could actually stay longer with the passengers till they go on to the enclosed security area for the screening of their hand-baggage and their person (maybe till 45 minutes before boarding). Furthermore, with the avoiding of the long queue in front of the pre-screening machines it will be possible even to reduce the reporting time from three to two hours. Now, what about the screening of checked baggage? It should be done behind the scene, at the baggage sorting and loading area downstairs, where the baggage after check-in put on the conveyor belt is received. One or two scanning machines (instead of the large number now used) installed there would be enough to screen all the baggage, before being sorted out, by airline and destination. Any suspect piece of baggage would be segregated, and the owner, identified through the baggage tag, would be paged to report to the loading area (downstairs) and requested to open the baggage. If any unlawful item is discovered, you have the passenger, right there, legally caught red-handed. So, for heaven's sake, please take the baggage screening out of where it is now, to the spot where it should be, without causing inconvenience to the passengers and the public and giving the authorities all the legal evidence when needed. This arrangement could also facilitate the opening of city centre terminals, when feasible. This is one of the measures which should be considered (together with all other improvements) by the AAI as well as the international experts. A complete review of our current situation and an examination of all the key measures, such as downtown terminals, are needed to optimise the utilisation of (limited) space, maximise the facilities for the comfort and smooth flow of passengers. That will also make economic sense.