Delhi Aereocity, Mumbai airport projects cleared, industry breathes easy

New Delhi, August 1 (IANS) Hoteliers Thursday heaved a sigh of relief after the government cleared the Delhi Aerocity and Mumbai airport development projects that were stuck over security concerns for some years and hoped that they would help develop the two places into major aviation hubs.

"It is a welcome move that was long awaited as a lot of investments had gone into projects. Once completed, the Aerocity will be the finest hospitality district in Delhi," Ankur Bhatia, executive director, Bird Group, whose company is developing the Dusit D2 hotel brand, told IANS.

Bhatia's project is expected to come up in the first quarter of next year. Around four of the 16 hotels, including Lemon Tree Premier, Red Fox, Ibis and JW Marriott, are ready and construction on others are in full swing.

"We are awaiting for the final (decision) papers and only then we can disclose our date for opening the property," said Aradhana Lal, vice president, corporate communications and sustainability initiative, Lemon Tree Hotels.

Industry insiders say that if all clearances come in time then the hotels will be able to start operations from second or third week of August itself.

Mumbai International Airport, a joint venture between a consortium led by GVK Group and Airports Authority of India (AAI), welcomed the decision. "This is a positive development and it will help us take another step towards our endeavour of providing more comprehensive services to passengers and associates," said MIAL.

Similar to the Delhi Aerocity project, the Rs.4,000-crore Mumbai airport project was also cleared by the government late Wednesday.

The Delhi hospitality district, spread across 43 acres leased out by Delhi International Airport (DIAL), was intended to rival similar facilities in and around airports like Singapore's Changi airport.

The project was slated to be completed before the 2010 Commonwealth Games providing 5,100 rooms and to generate 10,000 direct employment opportunities and 30,000 indirect employment.

However, security agencies including Delhi Police, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and others had raised concerns over the proximity of the hotels to the runway.

At 300 metres from the runway overlooking the VIP section of the airport was considered a threat and a slew of measures like bulletproof windows to intruder detection systems were recommended by a expert group which had gone on study tours to Amsterdam and Dallas.

After a lot of representations, the Cabinet Committee on Investment which was formed to fast-track stuck projects like the Aerocity, Wednesday opted for a glass wall to be erected around hotels with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) providing the specifications.

Industry experts voiced concen over the costs to be incurred in erecting the new security structure required by the government.

"Who pays for the giant bulletproof glass walls surrounding the hotels. We wonder if any of the hotel owners had budgeted for this additional cost while deciding their bids," asked Amber Dubey, partner and head, aerospace and defence, at global consultancy KPMG.

Dubey and others asked why were security objections not raised when Delhi Airport master plan was approved in 2008 or the bids for the Aerocity hotels were called in 2009.

Sectoral experts pointed out that some residential buildings in Dwarka overlook the runway from a distance of 325 meters, while urban village Mehramnagar is only 275 metres from the runway.

In Mumbai, some slum clusters near the runway 27 are higher than the boundary wall.

A government official, however, said the hospitality district with proper security features should not be taken as a burden but as an insurance. "The new measures will ensure added security feature and faster pace of development," he said asking not to be named.

Industry players and experts feel the security clearance for hospitality districts will help in developing the Delhi and Mumbai airports as aviation hubs.

"Encouraging to see the longstanding security concerns being resolved. The Rs.8,000 crore investment will be helpful in making these cities international transit hubs,"said Rajiv Chib, associate director, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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