Happiness is in the Kolkata air. In spite of its many socioeconomic problems, the locals are happy and always in a celebratory mood. As Airport Director, Atul Dikshit wants this to rub off on every local and international visitor to the city’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) Airport.

“The people of Kolkata are very loving and caring. They’re some of the kindest and most cultured people I’ve met. This is what I love about this place,” Atul says. “And it’s what I want to share with our passengers. The moment they enter the airport, I want them to realise they are entering the City of Joy.”

Scattered throughout the honeycomb ceilings of the check-in terminals are the writings of Kolkata poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. This pleases literature buff Atul, an avid Dan Brown fan, who says he just finished reading Brown’s latest novel, Origin.

The people of Kolkata are very loving and caring. They’re some of the kindest and most cultured people I’ve met.

As part of NSCBI Airport’s showcasing of local artists, Atul recently opened an art gallery in the airport. As passengers go through the standard security checks before boarding their flight, they can peruse the art gallery and take a piece of Kolkata with them.

A major transformation

Long mocked for mismanagement, the airport known as Dum Dum until 1995 underwent a major transformation, which involved upgrading its infrastructure, lifting its passenger capacity, and providing better facilities. This did not go unrecognised by its peers. The Airport Council International named NSCBI Airport the most improved in Asia–Pacific in 2014 and 2015.

Atul Dikshit Airport Director of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) Airport
Atul Dikshit, Airport Director of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International (NSCBI) Airport

When Atul took on the directorship in early 2016, he kickstarted some projects of his own, including re-strengthening the main runway. He also re-examined some of the procedures. “Right now, we are operating 30 flights per hour on this runway. We hope to achieve 38 movements per hour through changes to our ATC [!air!] procedure.”

As for the terminal side, Atul finalised three major contracts. The first was a retail agreement with Welcome Retail, and another with the duty-free chain Flemingo. The agreements account for a combined revenue of INR32.5 million per month.

He also initiated contracts with a range of major food and beverage vendors, including a number of Indian brands as well as global franchises such as Pizza Hut, KFC and Subway. Next, NSCBI Airport awarded an advertising contract to Signpost India, generating approximately INR31.4 million in revenue per month.

Dikshit ensures passengers feel comfortable and welcome

On top of all this improved infrastructure, there was also the retraining of airport employees in service provision. “I’ve trained them in soft skills so when they deal with passengers, even people travelling on a plane for the very first time, they feel comfortable and welcome.”

However, the work doesn’t end there. In FY2016–17, NSCBI Airport accommodated nearly 16 million passengers. “In the first six months of 2017–18, we already handled nine million passengers so I expect us to cross the 18 million mark by the end of this financial year,” Atul predicts.

Atul is set on increasing the airport’s capacity by another 10–15 million passengers per year. Whether that is feasible depends on the report handed down by Landrum & Brown, appointed by the Airports Authority of India as consultants on a 20-year master plan to expand NSCBI and Lucknow airports. “We may go for another terminal building or we may expand the old one,” he says.

“We’ll adopt whichever strategy is more economical, feasible and convenient for the passenger.” For more than three decades, Atul has dedicated himself to aviation at the Airports Authority of India, including four years at Patna, three years at Allahabad, another three at Lucknow, and two years at Guwahati.

Tagore once mused, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” It is a creed Atul will certainly continue to live up to.