A project mooted over six years ago and one of the main demands of Coimbatore region – an expanded international airport – is yet to take off.
A 12,500 feet runway, larger terminal, more parking area and bigger aircraft flying in and out of the city - these and many more facilities can become a reality if the Coimbatore International Airport is expanded.
The trade and industry have been seeking better air connectivity and expediting the airport expansion project as these will push Coimbatore a notch up as an attractive destination for industrial investments. However, the project has not seen much progress and the delay seems to be a potential threat that can ground even the existing operations.
The Confederation of Indian Industry and Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry members have had discussions with the airport officials to see how the project can be taken forward.
Why is the airport expansion an urgent need?
According to sources, the airport is allowed to operate on conditional licence that is renewed every six months, though it is usually valid for two years. It needs to meet some operational requirements, mandated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Otherwise, the airport can lose the licence.
For instance, the runway must have 150 metres of vacant land on either side to meet any risk to aircraft during landing or take off. However at present, major portion of the runway had only half the operational clearance area (75 metres on each side) mandated for the type of aircraft landing here.
It also does not have adequate land to be earmarked as isolation bay that is needed to tackle contingencies such as hijacked airliner.
Providing the mandatory operational clearance area and runway extension requires land. Nearly 600 acres has been identified for acquisition for the expansion project and this move has been going through trials and tribulations for the last five years.
Madurai airport has 615 acres and plans are on to acquire 615 acres. Similarly, Tiruchi airport has 715 acres and plans are on acquire 550 acres. Even a smaller city like Jaipur has 28 parking bays, while Coimbatore has only eight.
Coimbatore District Collector M. Karunagaran says the District Administration has sought funds from the State Government for disbursing compensation to the land owners.
The total area identified for acquisition is 630 acres, including 150 acres of defence land.
“We will take up immediately measures for acquiring land that is needed for the runway extension,” he says.
When contacted, D. Paul Manickam, Airport Director, Coimbatore International Airport, said that discussions have been initiated with the district administration to expedite land acquisition. Negotiations have also commenced with the Defence services. The AAI, Union Aviation Ministry and the State Government were working together to complete the process , he added.
N. Parameshwaran, secretary of Civil Rights Protection Movement, says the land identified spreads across seven or eight neighbourhoods including residential, industrial and agricultural pockets.
“Our problem is survival. If people living in an area for several decades have to move out, they need to be given alternative land, adequate compensation to build another house and time to shift to the new place”, he says.
Member of Parliament representing Coimbatore P.R. Natarajan says that the expansion of the Coimbatore Airport must not be taken up in a manner that causes adverse affects on a large number of people.
Also, he claims that the present expansion plan will serve the airport only for the next ten years, after which further land acquisition may be warranted.
“The land acquisition for the present airport expansion plan will result in displacement of 584 houses, for factories, two schools besides 12 mills.”
He said that he was not opposed to the airport expansion or the development it would bring to this region.
The only concern was it must be done with minimal impact on the society, which the present plan failed to do.
A greenfield project that can be taken up on public-private partnership or an alternative runway for the existing airport are some of the options that can be explored as solutions to the problem.
However, the feasibility needs to be studied as these required nearly 1,000 acres and there is a problem in acquiring less than that for the existing proposal, say industry sources.