Star Alliance picks Delhi, Mumbai airports for seamless hub project

By bappaditya paul
Global airline network, Star Alliance, has identified Delhi and Mumbai airports for its Seamless Hub Project that aims at facilitating efficient and speedy service to flyers. The move comes three months after Air India became a member of Star Alliance that has 27 airlines worldwide in its fold.Star Alliance1
“We have identified Mumbai and Delhi airports for Seamless Hub Projects. This will be implemented next year,” Star Alliance vice president, Customer Experience and IT, Mr Justin Erbacci, told a group of visiting journalists in Frankfurt. “On implementation, this will improve the quality of service to passengers at these airports and will especially ensure seamless transfers from one Star Alliance member airline to another.”

Seamless Hub Project is an initiative of Star Alliance wherein it undertakes physical survey of a selected airport and identifies both physical and technological loopholes that are a hindrance to smooth service to passengers that includes easy check-in, hassle-free security check and speedy inter/intra airline transfer of flyers and baggage. Right now, there are about 10 Seamless Hub Projects in various airports worldwide; Beijing and Bangkok are the only airports in Asia covered under the initiative.

Elaborating about the project, Mr Erbacci said: “Once we have identified the shortcomings, we seat with all stakeholders at an airport such as the airport management, operating airlines and ground handling agencies. We suggest them the changes that are required to improve passenger experience; our main focus remains on no-cost or low-cost solutions.”

Delhi Airport

The solutions may include repositioning of service desks, realigning the access route to various facilities, putting up additional airport signage or improving / repositioning the existing signage and putting in place a co-ordination mechanism for Star Alliance member airlines etc.

“A common check-in facility for all Star Alliance member airlines at the selected airport could be an additional feature of the Seamless Hub Project,” Mr Erbacci said. Of the 27 Star Alliance members, 11 airlines operate flights from Mumbai airport, while nine airlines operate flights from Delhi airport.

It takes about six to eight months to realise a Seamless Hub Project in its entirety, but some solutions could be implemented immediately after being identified.  Nitty-gritty of the Delhi and Mumbai projects will be thrashed out in Star Alliance’s next Chief Executive Board (CEB) meeting scheduled in December.


Star Alliance CEO, Mr Mark Schwab, clarified that irrespective of whether there was a change in Air India leadership (read chairman-cum-managing director) or not over the next two months, the CEB would meet in New Delhi in December as scheduled.

“Mr (Rohit) Nandan has done a terrific job vis-à-vis putting Air India on the path to a turn-around. But it’s entirely the prerogative of AI owners (read the Government of India) to pick up new leadership, if they and when they want to,” Mr Schwab said when told that New Delhi was considering posting a new CMD for Air India. “Irrespective of whether there is change of guard in AI, the CEB meeting would be held in Delhi. Our agreement with AI would continue; we have very high-level of confidence on them.”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 12 October 2014.)

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Paid porters on anvil at Kolkata airport

By bappaditya paul 

N S C Bose International Airport in Kolkata is all set to introduce paid porters to carry passenger baggage. The move will specially come handy for new and aged flyers travelling alone as the porters will double up as their guides inside the airport terminal.   Airport portersAt present, complimentary porter service is available only for VIPs or VVIPs at a few airports in the country.

According to NSCBI Airport director, Dr B P Sharma, the initiative is aimed at making the airport passenger friendly and the paid porters will be made available in a month or so.

“At the departure level, paid porters will carry the baggage in trolleys right from the main entry gates and up to the security checkpoints inside the terminal. As regards the arrival level, the porters will carry the baggage from the conveyor belt and up to the taxi or bus stop in front of the terminal, as a passenger desires,” said the airport director. “We are hiring a private agency to run the service. Though the charges are yet to be finalised, it will range between Rs 100 and Rs 200 per porter.”

Similar to railway stations, the porters will wait for passengers in front of the entry gates on the first floor of the airport terminal and near the conveyor belts on the ground floor. A passenger willing to avail the services of a porter shall have to make an approach on the spot; advance requisition is not required. NSC Bose Airport new passenger terminalA paid porter will not only carry the baggage of a passenger but also guide him/her to the airline-specific baggage X-ray scanners and the check-in counters. If the passenger concerned has cabin bags as well, the porter will carry it up to the security checkpoints. On rendering the service, the porter will collect his payment directly from the passenger. “In short, the porter will also act as a guide to flyers,” Dr Sharma elaborated.

The new passenger terminal at Kolkata airport is spread over 1.80-lakh square metre area housing both the international and domestic zones under a single roof. Flyers, especially aged ones and those flying for the first-time, find it difficult to access/reach the necessary facilities inside this large terminal while towing their luggage.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 4 September 2014.)

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For a safe, secure sky

By bappaditya paul

Come 1 September, Kolkata will for the first time hold a national conference on air safety and navigation to deliberate on the latest technological advancement and practices in aviation to make flying safer.The existing Air Traffic Control (ATC) at NSCBI Airport

Over 250 delegates who carry out Communication Navigation Surveillance (CNS) functions at different airports across India will attend the daylong event being organised by the CNS Officers’ Guild of Airports Authority of India.

Representatives of a few original equipment manufacturers (OEM) of CNS apparatus, such as Northrop Grumman, are expected to participate in the event to be held at the Science City Auditorium off E M Bypass.

CNS Officers’ Guild is a professional body that represents CNS engineers and executives posted at the airports across India. CNS Officers play a major role in the safety of the air traffic service by providing round-the-clock communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management (CNS-ATM) system as per the latest standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) of the DGCA to make the Indian airspace safe.Helicopter in the skyThe highpoint of the conference is its three technical sessions that will cover air safety, security, communications, future air navigation services, apparatus maintenance and manpower management. Besides experts from its own trade, the Guild has roped in three experts from Jadavpur University, the Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta and the Indian Statistical Institute to deliberate on the subjects.

“The primary aim of the conference is to improve the level of flight/aircraft guidance on our skies in pursuance the latest ICAO standards; this will contribute to making flying safer,” said Mr Pinaki Banerjee, eastern regional secretary of the CNS Officers’ Guild. “During the conference we will share amongst ourselves the best practices in CNS and Air Traffic Management; areas will be identified that require further improvement.”

The Guild has earlier held three international event on aviation: a seminar on Emerging Trends in Communication, Navigation and Surveillance in Civil Aviation in 2007, on Next Generation Air Traffic Engineering System in 2010 and in 2012 it hosted the 42nd International Federation of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Associations (IFATSEA) all in Delhi.

“This is for the first time that such an important national event is being held outside the national Capital,” Mr Banerjee said. One of the reasons for choosing Kolkata as the venue is the recent automation of the Kolkata Flight Information Region in which CNS engineers and officers played a crucial role.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 26 August 2014.)

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Whistles of heart

By bappaditya paul

Tarun Goswami is not known in Kolkata for what he does for a living and he will, probably, take a little more time before he gets famous throughout India for what he does out of passion! And this persistent drive for elevation~ from the mundane to sublime ~ is what keeps this 51-year-old youth moving and restless all the time.Tarun GoswamiMr Goswami is a master of singing-whistling, a very out-of-box form of performing art that leaves a listener mesmerised. To put it simply, he can sign any number of songs through whistling. But don’t consider this as simple as it sounds!

“I rehearse for two-hours every day on my own. Besides this, I rehearse once-in-a-week with my team of musicians; this lasts for more than four-five hours,” he says. “Routine rehearsal is a must to keep the vocal cords smooth for the whistles to flow.”

For a working journalist that Mr Goswami is by profession, maintaining this rehearsal schedule is not an easy task. “One ought to be a strict disciplinarian for this,” he says.

Ask him how he picked up such an unusual passion and Mr Goswami will share an anecdote that will leave you amazed. “I was barely seven or eight year old that I started to whistle whatever songs I listened; it came spontaneously. I will roam about our house at Bhowanipore whistling every now and then.”

After observing him doing this for a while, his mother Shefali-Devi misconstrued the passion. “She thought I was whistling to the classmates of my elder sister who used to visit our house frequently. Maa gave me a solid bashing and warned me not to whistle ever again.”

But on the contrary, this apparent bane worked as a boon for him. Now he became adamant that he wanted to sing through whistle; he began practicing on Bengali songs ~ both traditional and modern alike. “I picked up several songs on my whistles over the next two-three years but those lacked the touch of a melodic fine-tuning. I was feeling the need for a formal training.”

Salil Chowdhury But who will teach you something that anybody hardly practices as an art form? Here came handy a school friend who was a relative of music maestro Salil Chowdhury. “One day he took me to Salil-babu at the latter’s Ballygunge house and told him that I wanted to learn music to be able to whistle in melody. Salil-babu asked me to whistle some songs that I knew; on listening those he said: Tui parbi (you have the potential). I will train you.”

For several years Mr Goswami trained with Salil Chowdhury and began to perform in closed circles. Whoever listened to his whistles, showered praises and advised him to follow this up. Finally, after passing out from college, he joined the team of famous musician V Balsara and started appearing in professional performance.

“I performed with Balsara-ji wherever he went. There was a very memorable performance in Bombay. He used to pay me some honorarium on the basis of every single performance.”

V Balsara

After Balsara’s demise in 2005, Mr Goswami formed his own team with six musicians who now support his whistles by playing background score. These days he performs on a host of occasions ~ at marriage ceremonies, anniversaries, private parties and so on and so forth; the whistles include both Hindi and Bengali songs.

“The money that comes from such performances gives my team sustenance, for barring me, music is the livelihood for the rest of them all,” he explains.

In 2013, Mr Goswami and his team performed at Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi at the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee.

But of all the one performance that Mr Goswami personally enjoys the most is the one that he presents in Kolkata on 7 December every year. For the past few years, Uttam Mancha at Hazra has become a permanent venue for this annual whistling festival. In addition to tickets that are sold through different distribution channels for the event, Mr Goswami personally sends out invitations to those who appreciate good music.

Dipankar Chowdhury, a bureaucrat with West Bengal government and a connoisseur of music, who attended the event themed on Kishore Kumar last December, was totally mesmerised.

Tarun Goswami

“The effortlessness and brilliance with which Goswami ‘sung’ transported many in the packed audience to the melodious and nostalgic past of the 60s and 70s,” Chowdhury observed. “Each word of each song has a distinct whistle-sound, as well as the tone and subtlety; Ek palaker ektu dekha.. and Mere naina sawan bhado.. were rendered with such equal aplomb that one is only left to wonder the amount of time, energy and effort required for such perfect reflections of the original songs.”

No wonder, Mr Goswami is credited for uplifting and popularising whistling from being a lazy time-pass or tease tool of wandering youths to an art form that is inviting kudos from every heart that loves music.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India.)

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Kolkata airport gets a website finally

By bappaditya paul
As they say, better late than never! The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata has finally got a website where people can get information about flights and other related logistics within a few clicks.NSC Bose International Airport, Kolkata, new passenger terminal

The website ~ ~ comes 18 months after the airport threw open a Rs 2,325 crore new passenger terminal on 20 January 2013.

In the absence of a website fliers were facing difficulties in getting basic information such as status of a flight or availability of accommodation for overnight stay at the airport and so on.

The newly launched website comes with real time updates for all arriving and departing flights from two-three hours preceding the current time till the morning of next day with relevant information such
as scheduled time, expected time, assigned check-in counter, assigned departure gate, assigned conveyer belt and the latest activity status for a flight, viz, security check, boarding, boarding closed, on schedule, arrived or delayed.

The good thing is, people seeking information about a flight can register on the website just by entering their name and e-mail address; the system will automatically provide updates via mail. But unlike in the USA or UK, no updates  will be available on mobile phones; one will have to depend on e-mail alerts on his/her smart phone. The website has a version for surfing on mobile devices. A check-in counter at Kolkata airportAnother major shortcoming is that the website does not offer flight status information for the entire day; the status update is available for a window period that starts from two/three hours preceding the current time.

There is a search box to look for desired flights but it also
does not show the status of a scheduled flight that may have arrived, departed or got cancelled several hours before on the current day.   Boeing B-787 aircrat Information about accommodation at the airport, airport shops and eateries, medical and transport facilities, lost baggage, etc. has been provided.  Names of key airport officials are also there on the website with contact numbers.But neither accommodation nor transport can be booked on the site.

There is an amusing lapse on the website: in the about section it states that a new passenger terminal was being constructed at the airport. The fact being the new terminal with 20 million annual passenger capacity was thrown open for fliers on 23 March 2013.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 17 August 2014.)

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Reel and reality of Kolkata Metro help-lines


By bappaditya paul
A young woman travelling in a crowded Metro train is being constantly shoved by a man; she feels uncomfortable and moves away. The man repositions himself and continues to harass the woman, compelling her to directly ask him to behave. But this warning too going in vain, the woman rings up the Metro Help Line from her mobile phone. Officials manning the help line acts promptly and the man is arrested by Railway Protection Force the moment he steps of out of the train at a next Metro station.No Signal 1This is a promotional video that Metro Railway airs day in and day out on TV sets installed on platforms of all its stations. Now cut to the reality:

Last Monday, Antara Kanungo (24) boarded a Metro from Netaji (Kudghat) station for Central and got a corner seat in the ladies’ section. A flock of young men boarded the train from Rabindra Sarobar and stood huddling together beside the door; one of them rested his back on the handrail of Antara’s seat. She requested the youth to stand straight; instead of obliging, he gave her a dirty look and asked her to travel by taxi if she was averse to such touch. A co-traveller voiced a protest only to be booed down by the loutish youths.

Outraged, Antara dialed the Metro Help Line from her mobile but alas there is no signal on her Vodafone connection! The co-passenger with Airtel connection offers help but the signal fails her as well.No signal woman“I felt so helpless. The man got down at Esplanade much before I stepped out on the Central station platform and my phone’s signal became live again,” Antara said in a frustrated tone.

It is, however, not an issue with Vodafone or Airtel signal alone; mobile signal of no operator is available in Metro trains when they pass through tunnels. Signals are partially available only on Kolkata Metro ticketing areas and platforms where the operators have installed “repeaters or micro BTS” for which they pay an annual license fee to Metro Railway. These repeaters or micro BTS have a low coverage area.

But as if oblivious of this, Metro Railway in January this year introduced two help lines ~ a Women Help Line and Security Help Line ~ to enable passengers to contact from moving train should there be a need.

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), whose members include almost all big private mobile operators, are not willing to shoulder the blame.
“There is no (mobile) signal as the tunnels are not wired with network,” said Mr V K Cherian, COAI’s director corporate communications, without clarifying whether their members would take initiative to address the issue.No SignalAsked about the modalities on which private operators were charged for installing micro BTSs at Metro stations and why they were failing to ensure connectivity inside the tunnels, Metro Railway’s Chief Traffic Manager (CTM) Mr K V Rao, refused to respond. “This is not linked to public interest and hence I will not respond,” Mr Rao said in a rude tone unbecoming of a senior railway officer. In Metro it is the CTM who looks after all commercial aspects such as renting out a space or facility to a private entity.

Metro Railway spokesperson, Mr R N Mahaptra, however, said that they were “working closely with all operators to ensure mobile connectivity inside the tunnels.”

In December 2013, at a cost of Rs 18-crore, Metro had introduced in its trains and tunnels a dedicated internal mobile telecommunications facility called GSM-R for the use of its train drivers. Metro sources said that the plan now was to lease out a bandwidth from GSM-R to the private mobile operators so that they could provide connectivity to the subscribers.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 3 August 2014.)

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New SEC Upadhyay has task cut out for him


By bappaditya paul

Mamata Banerjee’s bete noir Mira Pande will complete her tenure as State Election Commissioner on 21 July and Susanta Ranjan Upadhyay, a retired WBCS officer, will fill in her shoes the next day.

Susanta Ranjan Upadhyay

Susanta Ranjan Upadhyay

But notwithstanding the “friendly to government” tag that some sections have awarded to Mr Upadhyay, it will be difficult for the new SEC to back out from the legal battle that Mrs Pande is leaving behind over holding elections to 17 civic bodies in the state.

Legal and civic poll experts say that under Article 243U of the Constitution, it is the SEC’s obligation to hold timely elections to civic bodies. “It is immaterial who is in office: the poll panel can not shy away from this Constitutional obligation. It shall have to exploit every Constitutional avenue to conduct the polls,” said a retired High Court judge unwilling to be named.

Article 243U, clause (1) reads: “Every Municipality, unless sooner dissolved under any law for the time being in force, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer.” Clause (3), sub clause (a) further makes it clear that polling to a civic body shall be held: “before the expiry of its duration specified in clause (1).

West Bengal state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande

West Bengal state election commissioner Ms Mira Pande

The five year term of 17 civic bodies in the state ~ Mal, Kaliaganj, Gangarampur, Madhyamgram, Rajarhat-Gopalpur, South Dum Dum, Dum Dum, Rajpur-Sonarpur, Maheshtala, Uluberia, Dankuni, Egra, Sainthia, Asansol, Kulti, Islampur and the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad ~ is expiring between 17-31 July.

The Bengal government however, does not want the polls till next year on the excuse that it is monsoon now and some of the civic bodies in question are to be restructured. This made Mrs Pande move the Calcutta HC.

“Before moving to the High Court, we wrote the state government numerous times. The government sat on the matter till early June when it wrote back saying that the polls could not be held before the civic bodies were restructured and a favorable season sat in,” said a senior SEC official. “This reasoning is absurd as civic polls had been held in the peak summer of 2009. Also one cannot defer the polls for a prolonged period on the excuse of restructuring; restructuring can be carried out after the polls.”

Mamata Banerjee A Calcutta HC advocate, not linked to this case, pointed out that the new SEC’s options have been limited by the fact that Mira Pande meticulously followed all procedures before knocking the court.

“Mr Upadhyay can not get into a fresh negotiation with the government as the latter has shut that possibility,” he said. “The best-case scenario will be that the High Court asks both the parties to propose an amicable solution to it; this can only happen if the government blinks in favour of an early polls, at least in those civic bodies, that are not being restructured. As regards the rest, under Section 14 (4) of the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993 the government can appoint administrators to run them till the restructuring is complete.”

Of the 17 civic bodies whose elections are due, seven feature in list of municipalities that are to be restructured or upgraded.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 20 July 2014.)


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