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Take-off aborted

R. KRISHNA KUMAR
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Stakeholders believe runway extension could pave the way for more flights to Mysore which is currently served by only one flight on alternate days.— Photo: M.A. Sriram
Stakeholders believe runway extension could pave the way for more flights to Mysore which is currently served by only one flight on alternate days.— Photo: M.A. Sriram

It is a classic case for the bureaucracy to constitute a committee to form a sub-committee which in turn will recommend a task force that may come out with a proposal for a join action committee. The name of the game will be to defer taking a final decision on a problematic issue. For, the issue is perceived to be tricky and not withstanding any decision, one will be criticised for it. An example for “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.

The situation pertains to the twin issues of Mysore airport expansion and the Mysore-Nanjangud highway expansion. What is the co-relation? One may ask. It is the alignment. The highway as it is aligned today will bisect the airport runway if its length is extended from the existing 1,740 metres to 2,400 metres. This extension is part of the expansion of the Mysore airport which is not being served by any airlines but for a sole service on alternate days by SpiceJet. Reason? The runway length is sufficient only for small ATR type of short-haul aircraft. A majority of the airline operators do not have ATR type in their fleet and even if they have, it is deployed in other sectors. Hence the Mysore airport, despite its potential for generating adequate passenger load to sustain flight operations, remains off the flight map of all airlines except SpiceJet.

So, the only solution, according to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and stakeholders such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), is to extend the runway to facilitate operation of heavier or wide-bodied aircraft like Boeing and Airbus operated by all airlines. The runway extension will require at least 175 acres of land while additional land has to be acquired for buffer space and construction of a wall to demarcate the airport’s boundary.

The catch

But therein lies the problem. The Mysore-Nanjangud stretch of National Highway Number 212 passes close by and in case the runway is extended, the highway has to be diverted as their alignment will bisect each other. And herein lies the tricky situation. Those opposed to the expansion point to the commercial failure of Mysore airport and lack of enthusiasm from airline operators to fly to this sector. Hence they see no reason for expanding the airport by acquiring land, compensating the farmers, giving encumbrance-free land to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for diverting the highway and depositing Rs.100 crore to enable it to take up the road works when there is only flight every other day flying in and out of the city.

Long-term benefit

But those supporting the expansion plan have a different take. As explained earlier, they aver that if the runway is extended more flights can operate to and from Mysore and will be beneficial to the city in the long run as a working airport will positively influence investment decisions and give a fillip to the industrialisation of the region. This in turn will fuel more demand for airlines and such an investment now is justified. The CII in fact met Chief Minister Siddaramaiah recently and submitted a wish-list for the development of Mysore in which airport expansion was high on the agenda.

In the meantime, the NHAI had received the go-ahead from the State Government two years ago to widen the Mysore-Nanjangud highway as part of the NH 212 improvement under PPP model. The Government had ruled out airport expansion on the grounds that the response was lukewarm and hence there was no point in investing a colossal sum on land acquisition for the airport. Consequently, the NHAI called for tenders, completed the survey, and acquired land for highway expansion which is expected to cost over Rs.470 crore (from Moolehole in Bandipur to Uttamballi in Kollegal, about 150 km). The Mysore-Nanjangud section is expected to cost Rs.100 crore.

The NHAI has identified the stretch along which power transmission lines, telephone lines, drainage and sewage lines have to be shifted.

There are nine hand pumps that have to be relocated, 35 pump houses supplying drinking water and 772 electricity poles that will be shifted to pave way for road widening.

As sources in the NHAI told The Hindu, the tenders were floated and were even in the process of being finalised when a review meeting held this week has put a spanner in the work and directed the NHAI to take up the highway works but spare the area near the airport so that the Government takes a final call on it.

The Deputy Commissioner, Ramegowda, said in case a decision was taken subsequently to expand the airport the money spent on road widening would be a wasted expenditure.

Occupancy rate

The existing flight service has over 60 to 75 per cent occupancy rate despite its odd timings and even travel agents perceive a better response if there was an early morning outbound flight from Mysore, with connectivity to Goa, Mumbai, Kochi or Hyderabad.

To be fair to the stakeholders including the CII, they had foreseen the emerging crisis way back in 2007 when the Airports Authority of India had announced that the runway length would be restricted to 1,740 metres in the first phase and depending on the response it would take up the second phase.

At an interactive meeting the stakeholders had categorically stated that Mysore airport would be a commercial failure if it was not full-fledged to enable heavier aircraft to operate.

R. KRISHNA KUMAR

It’s a toss-up between expanding the Mysore-Nanjangud highway and extending the airport runway, with no umpire to give the verdict