The Devil wears Prada

Cargo @ MOPA Airport

Once again we have the ugly head of the MOPA airport raising itself when the Chief Minister of Goa announced that it was going to be the new cargo airport for the state. This reminds us that we have not yet resolved the issue. And I wonder why after all these years we cannot resolve it? Several commissions and committees appointed by the Centre have time and again submitted reports confirming the inadequate safety and financial sustainability of MOPA.

Goa is one of the smallest states in India in terms of land area. It is currently served by Dabolim airport which is strategically situated close to the port of Mormugao.

According to Goa Tourism website, in 2014 Goa received a total of 40,58,226 tourists – 35,44,634 tourists were domestic and 5,13,592 tourists were international. This is an average of 3,38,185 tourists a month by different means of transport – air, rail, road. Whilst the average hotel beds in Goa across all categories of hotels is a little over 52,000.


These statistics only serve to indicate the volumes of people that are visiting our tiny state and the infrastructure available to cater to them which seems more than adequate to meet the needs of the tourists.


Now let’s talk about the airport. In case one has forgotten history, the airport was built in 1955 by the Government of the Portuguese State of India on 249 acres of land. After Liberation, the Navy occupied the airport for its own use. Currently the airport is spread over 688 hectares (1,700 acres) (and possibly 745 hectares or 1,840 acres) and consists of a civil enclave of nearly 14 hectares (35 acres), an increase from its original size of 6 hectares (15 acres).


Dabolim airport recently underwent an upgrade where a new terminal building was built at a cost of Rs 345 crore with the ability to handle 2,750 passengers in peak hours. Which means it can easily handle 27,500 passengers in 10 hours or 825,000 passengers in a month.


Yet, we are constantly told that the current Dabolim airport is saturated and cannot cater to the needs of the growing tourists arriving by air. If we compare that with current tourist arrivals, even assuming that all of them flew in by air, we are nowhere near what the new terminal capacity can handle in a 10 hour period.


Passenger traffic numbers (Source: Airports Authority of India)
International Passengers in Nos Domestic Passengers in Nos
June 2015 June 2014 %age change June 2015 June 2014 %age change
Mumbai 962429 950459 1.3 2268381 1939099 17.0
Delhi 1117371 1106624 1.0 2732359 2383844 14.6
Chennai 431386 413061 4.4 808419 757499 6.7
Bangalore 260500 234904 10.9 1184267 918553 28.9
Ahmedabad 114076 96843 17.8 362289 283578 27.8
Coimbatore 10654 11238 -5.2 129212 102850 25.6
Goa 19151 22712 -15.7 319480 272480 17.2



Why do we take a 10 hour period? Because currently due to the Navy’s requirements for training flights, civilian airspace is restricted to certain hours of the day but definitely more than 10 hours.

The existing old airport terminal building which is lying unutilised can be refurbished to cater to cargo operations as well as general aviation. The tarmac in front of it can be used for parking    general aviation aircraft. Often general aviation flights including medical ambulance air services are denied with the authorities citing lack of parking space as the reason.


The land area is sufficient to expand the facilities on the airside to strengthen the existing airport          infrastructure to accommodate parking bays, taxi tracks, cargo facilities, etc. But of course the main issue is that the Navy is not willing to relinquish areas that they occupy which are not linked to aviation or the airport, namely the civilian enclave, recreational facilities such as the golf course, etc.


Recently, the Government of Goa in its infinite wisdom has decided we need a new airport         because of the booming influx of tourists and exponentially rising cargo movements.


The new airport will be built at MOPA. Several studies indicate that the location is not suitable for an airport as it is on a table top (just like the Mangalore airport) and quite tricky to operate take off and landings especially in the monsoons. ICAO has also raised objections to the site and in 2005 the Air Force objected to the location citing safety reasons.


Building the airport is going to cost the taxpayer Rs 3000 crores and more. Apart from that, we will be damaging the environment, cutting down forests, taking land away from small farmers and relocating an airport far away from the port which is absolutely fool hardy considering that we should integrate all transportation hubs for the ease of cargo movement.


Kenneth Bo Nielsen, a postdoctoral research fellow from the University of Bergen, Norway spoke about how earlier campaigns highlighted popular concerns over environmental destruction, water depletion, land scams and pollution and raised it to the top of the political agenda, forcing the incumbent government to scrap the SEZ policy, withdraw the regional plan, and put Mopa on the backburner. It was not until mid-2008, when things had calmed down, that fresh land acquisition notifications were issued for Mopa. But the actual acquisition progressed slowly and was not declared to be complete until late 2013.


So let’s take a moment to consider the cargo movement out of Goa. Dabolim airport currently uplifts about 4000 tonnes of cargo every year. This is peanuts compared to other airports in India as the table below suggests.


Cargo uplift comparisons (Source: Airports Authority of India)
International Freight in Tonnes Domestic Freight in Tonnes
June 2015 June 2014 %age change June 2015 June 2014 %age change
Mumbai 42908 39552 8.5 16849 17605 -4.3
Delhi 40944 35879 14.1 22595 21568 4.8
Chennai 20229 18794 7.6 6886 6483 6.2
Bangalore 14316 14024 2.1 9235 9113 1.3
Ahmedabad 2073 1405 47.5 3838 3417 12.3
Coimbatore 90 81 11.1 560 616 -9.1
Goa 60 43 39.5 281 271 3.7





Even if we compare Goa’s potential with Coimbatore which has a roaring textile industry that exports all over the world, we have less than half of the uplift. And let’s not compare the cargo uplift from Goa to other larger cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, etc.


Yet, the Chief Minister of Goa announced that MOPA is going to be a cargo airport. I was shocked.


I looked at the statistics and looked again. I checked and found that neither Delhi nor Mumbai have a separate airport for cargo!! In fact, there is no dedicated airport for cargo in all of India.


So why does Goa need one?


And that too so far away from the port of Mormugao.


Am I missing something?


I would invite the Chief Minister to have a public debate once and for all on this topic and explain to the people of Goa why we need a new airport at all! Goa can definitely use the Rs 3000 crores meant for the construction and development of MOPA airport on other things like better housing, educational and health facilities and waste management which will truly benefit all.


– Vito Gomes is the Founder and Managing Director of Aviation Services Management and is an aviation expert.

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Smart cities seem to be the rage right now

Smart cities seem to be the rage right now.Smart City

They appear to be the answer to our urban problems, whose roots lie in a century or more of dumb growth patterns and poor design. Panjim, Margao and Vasco have been listed as cities to be developed under the Smart City programme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

According to a UN report, “India is projected to add about 400 million people to its urban population by 2050”.


I had the good fortune to attend a meeting that discussed what needed to be done in order to achieve the said “smartness” in Panjim. But to my dismay, I found the discussion lacking a holistic approach. One needs to look into the fact that cities are bound to become increasingly connected and this could mean that a failure in one sector could lead to problems in others and we need to be prepared.

Our concept of Smart Cities seems to be based on renovation rather than on innovation. Besides technology and digitising of services there was no other thought or idea about improving city life in that meeting.

Smart leadership, smart governance, smart technologies and smart people make for a  Smart City. Futuristic technology won’t fix many of our basic urban problems—controlling increasing traffic flows, managing volumes of waste generated or meeting energy efficiency targets.

Is joining the Smart City rush going to make everything okay?

Modi’s initiative of smart cities is welcomed and we are pleased that Panjim has been selected, but the initiative has to truly benefit the actual citizens/ residents.

Cities are where people live, work and play. Therefore it is imperative that we incorporate the human side of design into infrastructure while planning for the future. We need our cities to be friendly, hospitable, warm, safe and overall human.

Water, sanitation, reliable utility services, health care, attractive investment, transport process that make it easy to run commercial activities, simple and online processes for obtaining approvals and various citizen centric services to make citizens feel safe and happy, should be the core focus while developing a Smart City.

If we take all of the above and rank Goa, I wonder how we would stack up. Maybe we might be better than other Indian cities but if we were to take a world ranking and measure ourselves, would we be up amongst the top 10?

Recently in National Geographic’s Top 10 Nightlife Cities, Goa  was ranked sixth and Dublin in Ireland number one. This worldwide recognition is a pat on our backs, and  we must not let our guard down. We have had several incidents that have taken place in Goa and we cannot afford to have them repeated or increased.

Safety of women is a concern. Goa being a tourist destination is known for its nightlife. We must ensure that women are safe at night, while enjoying  themselves. This is non-negotiable when providing a stress free environment for residents and tourists.

Goa, still does not have a comprehensive public transport system. This makes us dependent and vulnerable to the taxi mafia, who on an ad-hoc basis hike prices. In a Smart City, government offers interconnected transport options so that people can move easily between work, home and recreation. A Smart City has to be less dependent on cars and taxis. This can only be achieved by bringing in clean, affordable and easy to use public transport that can move large number of people in the shortest possible time.

Fewer cars on city roads will lead to reduction in congestion in cities as well as decline in carbon footprint leading to clean air, lesser fuel being burnt and more revenue for the government. This allows for the government to designate and create spaces such as cycling paths, walking areas and parks for its citizens. Most Smart Cities are exploring these options.

With a long coastline and network of internal waterways, Goa has the potential to developed and provide recreational facilities as well as water transport options to its residents and tourists. We need to create an infrastructure that takes care of our people’s needs. Community spaces that promote connectedness amongst citizens needs to be integrated into infrastructure.

The best technology cannot substitute human interaction. Many cities are exploring ways to bring communities together. e.g. in Europe and US Smart Cities, there are parks with benches, and community spaces at regular intervals. These open space encourage people to be one with nature but also interact and take in the culture of the city. Making it inclusive and attractive.

Our State’s culture and history is interwoven by many influences—Portuguese, Indian, Hindu, Christian and Muslim. We need to integrate these influences into daily life in the city and not restrict them to the museums. Integrating culture into the landscape of the city, gives it character. Citizens are proud of their heritage, allowing them to appreciate it. We don’t have to wait for Carnival to showcase our traditions. It has to be done year round.

Whilst we look forward to digitising our government processes, the human design needs to be included in the urban revival and development of Panjim, Margao and Vasco to make them “smarter cities”.

A Smart City needs to understand its global responsibility and make people/citizen-friendly investments. Technology is only a part and an enabler in this space.

Coastal cities in danger of flooding

Image: For Illustrative purpose only

Image: For Illustrative purpose only

With the Chennai flood that shook the city in December one realised that to an extent what happened was not a natural disaster, but man-made. The drainage systems were not in place and drains that were built were clogged or real estate sharks had built over them, blocking water from escaping. And it was just waiting for the right circumstances. What then happened was inevitable.

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