The Rs. 300-crore world-class terminal of Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, which will be commissioned on Saturday, is a feather in the cap of Kerala, which is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its entry into the civil aviation map.
Flight services to and from Thiruvananthapuram, launched during the reign of Sri Chitra Tirunal Balarama Varma, the former ruler of erstwhile Travancore, revolutionised the aviation sector and later made the State a hub of flight operations to West Asia. It was the DH.83 Fox Moth aircraft owned by pioneer aviator Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata that landed at the airport at Chakka on October 29, 1935 paving the way for the State's entry into the aviation map.
The epoch-making decision to request Tata Airline to operate services from Mumbai virtually changed the aviation scenario and made it a vital mode of transport. At a time when rail and road connectivity were not that developed in the south, the offer of the Travancore ruler to compensate the airline for any loss showed his farsightedness. As a result, the State now has three international airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Nedumbaserry and Karipur.
The development of the Cochin International Airport under public-private partnership is a model for the country and an inspiration for similar projects in various other sectors. The airport in Kannur, which is in the pipeline, is modelled on the lines of the Cochin International Airport at Nedumbaserry. The erstwhile Travancore was one of the few Indian princely States of the pre-Independence period to have civil aviation service and one of the first to enter the aviation map.
The airport was accorded international status in 1991 during the tenure of the then Prime Minister V.P. Singh. The premier airport of the State was the fifth airport in the country after the airports in the major metros to get the status. Now almost all state-of-the-art aircraft fly to the three airports in the State offering connectivity to several countries.
The need for a new world class terminal for Thiruvananthapuram airport was felt as the existing terminal on the Shanghumughom side had already been saturated and there was no scope for expansion as the airport could only handle 4.02 lakh passengers a year. In the late Nineties, the State also rose to the occasion by setting up the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport Development Society (TRIADS) to create the requisite infrastructure,” recalls the then Assembly Speaker and the present Minister for Public Works and Law M. Vijayakumar.
Keeping in view the need to handle 11.65 passengers annually by the year 2010-11, the Airports Authority of India came up with the ambitious terminal project complex and master plan for the development of the airport. The State acquired in the initial phase 27 acres and the foundation stone was laid by the then Union Civil Aviation Minister, Sharad Yadav, in July 2000.
The privatisation wave of the airports owned and managed by the AAI and the inability to acquire the land from the densely populated Chakka-Karali side led to further delay of the project. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh again laid the foundation stone for the project on November 1, 2006.
The State spent Rs. 41 crore for the approach road and bridge across the Parvathy Puthanar to the new terminal complex. “Already, Rs.100 crore has been spent by the State for acquiring land. Additional land needs to be acquired for the further development and construction of new domestic terminal and it increases the responsibility of the State,” Mr. Vijayakumar said.
The advantage of being close to the city, railway station and close proximity to the Technopark, proposed Technocity, IT corridor and the proposed International Container Transhipment Terminal at Vizhinjam gives more scope for further development of the airport. “The State had extended all support for the development of the airport,” he said.
The Rs. 110-crore Aircraft Maintenance Base of Air India, the second in the country, coming up in the vicinity of the new terminal is going to be another asset to the airport. The Flying Club, started by Col. Godavarma Raja of the ruling family of erstwhile Travancore in 1958 in Thiruvananthapuram was another epoch-making step. Now, it has grown and developed into the Rajiv Gandhi Academy of Civil Aviation Technology and a premier centre for moulding pilots.