P. Sunderarajan

Malabar welcomes the decision of the Union Cabinet in this regard

NEW DELHI: The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal to declare the Calicut airport as an international airport, thereby paving the way for the improvement of the infrastructure there for handling international flights.

Announcing this, Union Minister and Cabinet spokesperson Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said though some international flights were already operating from the airport, declaring it as an international airport would help in augmenting the runway and other facilities at the airport so that more such flights could be operated from there. "The decision would make the airport to be part of the international map of airports,'' he said.

End to agitations

Special Correspondent in Kozhikode writes: The decision to grant international status to the airport at Karipur comes as a happy climax to a series of agitations organised by regular users of the airport and merchants' organisations in this part of the State.

Quite understandably, upgradation of the status of the airport has been welcomed with loud applause. The demand to upgrade the airport had reached a high pitch in recent weeks. Mass agitations in support of this demand were held under the banner of the Malabar Chamber of Commerce and the Calicut Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Political parties, including the Indian Union Muslim League which has a strong support base in Gulf countries, also had joined the chorus of the demand.

The announcement that the airport would have international status has ignited hopes of a boom in business in the coming years. Passengers and merchants also expect air travel to become cheaper as entry of foreign airlines on international routes, which were till now monopolised by Indian operators, would increase competition and lead to reduction of air fair.

Speaking to The Hindu on Wednesday, R. Veeraswamy , director, Calicut airport, said foreign airliners would be able to operate from the airport as soon as bilateral agreements were signed between India and the country to which the airline belonged.

Granting of international status to the Calicut airport is a significant milestone in the airport's 18-year-old history. The airport, situated in Malappuram district, was sanctioned after a long period of struggle which began in 1977 under the leadership of freedom fighter late K.P. Kesava Menon.

What is unique about the Calicut airport was that funds were collected from Gulf Malayalis for its development in the 1990s when the Union Government said it did not have funds.

The demand then was that the airport should be developed so that it would be of use to the large number of Keralites in North Kerala who were employed in Gulf countries and frequently came home.

To raise the funds needed for airport development, the Malabar International Airport Development Society was constituted at the initiative of the then Collector of Kozhikode, Amitab Kant. Later major developments of facilities, such as extension of runway from 6,000 feet to 9,000 feet to facilitate operation of big-bodied aircraft were carried out with loans from HUDCO. A user fee was also introduced to pay back the loans.

Since then, facilities at the airport have been greatly increased by the Airport Authority of India. There has also been a steady increase in the volume of passenger traffic from the airport. Nearly one million passengers arrive and take off from the Calicut airport every year, according to official estimates.