‘Pride of Northeast’: CAO Utpal Baruah shares vision for Guwahati airport’s future

Priyanka Chakrabarty

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Guwahati: With the newly privatized LGBI airport in Guwahati often staying in the news for new initiatives and innovations, Business North East sat down for an interview with the man behind the scenes. Chief Airport Officer Utpal Baruah, a man with 30 years of experience in the sector, sharing his vision for the airport's future, also highlighted the challenges in transforming the airport into one of the best in the country.

After successful stints in several airports across the country in various capacities over the years, Gautam Adani entrusted him with running the Guwahati airport in August 2021. “We started quite energetically and things are going well. There are plans for a big terminal here, which will be the first theme-based terminal in the northeast. We will explore the aesthetic options beforehand”, Baruah told Business North East.

The CAO, at the same time, also highlighted the challenges of running the airport successfully.

“At present, facilities for one person are being used by 4 persons. The peak hour capacity is 450, but we are handling more than 1,500 passengers during that period It is a bit difficult, but there is no other way”, he said. However, Baruah asserted that soon, they will meet these challenges with new state-of-the-art facilities. Another concern for Baruah is the “visibility” at the airport, which is not as per the prescribed level.

According to Baruah, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is “very much interested” in transforming the Guwahati Airport into a “modern airport in the real sense.” “He (Biswa Sarma) knows that it has immense potential and that it will serve the entire country. Tomorrow, it will be the gateway to the entire Southeast Asian region”, he said.

The airport also has a huge potential for cargo delivery which people are not aware of, said Baruah. “Nowadays, we are lifting perishable cargo too. For instance, we can now feed global citizens from Dubai to Singapore in 24 hours with our deliveries if required.”

Upon being asked about his beginnings, Baruah shared that he earned his Electronics and Communication Engineering degree in Chennai. After a brief stint with a private company, he was drawn towards the world of aviation. He officially joined the industry in 1993 at Allahabad, undergoing six months of rigorous training. Following this, he was drafted into the Aeronautical Communication Service and subsequently deputed to the Imphal airport in Manipur.

Although the Imphal airport was among the smallest in the country at the time, Baruah asserts that it gave him the opportunity to learn "many new things." His next assignment was in Tezpur where he aided in the construction of a civil terminal.

Baruah’s next shift was to Goa, where he joined as a terminal manager in 2001. "Careerwise, it was one of the best periods in my life as it helped me get a lot of exposure”, he recalled. He remembered his mentor Anuj Agarwal under whose guidance the Goa Airport flourished. While he was working there, a few airports in the country, like the ones in Mumbai and Delhi, were privatised, and Baruah got an opportunity to work at the latter.

When Airbus 380 came to India from the UAE, Baruah was one of the experts leading the project and went to Dubai for training. At one point, he was heading the GMR Aviation Academy. After working for 11 years with GMR, he got an offer to work in Kerela for the Kannur International Airport Limited where he joined as the Chief Operating Officer. Following his tenure there, he was hired by the Adani Group to oversee operations at the Guwahati airport.

“Guwahati Airport is the same as all airports of the world”, Baruah noted. The difference likes in infrastructure like terminal buildings, the number of passengers they can handle, and how sophisticated they are. “Towards that end, Guwahati International Airport Limited (GIAL), the operator of the airport, will do what it can to improve infrastructure and amenities,” he said.

According to Baruah, the LGBIA’s certification from the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) following an assessment of the airport’s quality management system is a matter of great pride. “Airports can be an economic driver to the region and should bring prosperity to the grassroots level”, Baruah affirmed. “I personally want this airport to become the pride of the northeast.”

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Priyanka Chakrabarty