Green challenges aplenty for proposed airport at Parandur

Airports Authority of India’s pre-feasibility study throws up a host of issues for the construction of a new airport at Parandur

August 06, 2022 06:50 pm | Updated August 07, 2022 08:28 am IST - CHENNAI

The site for the proposed airport in Parandur, which largely comprises wetlands,  attracts a large number of migratory birds.

The site for the proposed airport in Parandur, which largely comprises wetlands, attracts a large number of migratory birds. | Photo Credit: B. VELANKANNI RAJ

After two decades, the State government may have identified the site for a new greenfield airport at Parandur near Chennai, but a host of challenges lie ahead if a recent study done by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is anything to go by.

The pre-feasibility study of the AAI shows that of the 4,791.29 acres of land identified for the airport, 2,605 acres are wetlands.

An environmental expert said there could be several issues that may arise from the construction of the airport at Parandur. A detailed study of environmental issues, flooding, hydrology and stability of the buildings need to be carried out first, an expert from IIT Madras said. “It is possible to work around the wetlands and create infrastructure. But it can’t be done without an environmental impact assessment,” he said.

From decrease in groundwater recharge to deterioration in the quality of water and possible flooding during the monsoon, a host of issues need to be tackled at the site. “With meticulous planning and execution, keeping a committee of environmentalists, hydrologists, architects and civil engineering experts, it is possible to minimise the impact,” he added.

However, building a massive infrastructure over wetland would be time consuming as well, sources said.

Soil testing

According to Captain A. (Mohan) Ranganathan, a former airline instructor pilot and aviation safety adviser, the proposed greenfield airport site could face several problems. With much of the airport site classified under the wetlands category and given the nature of the soil, there had to be comprehensive soil testing, he said, to see if the ground was strong and compact enough for a runway or runways.

He cited the instance of the plan at Meenambakkam airport for a parallel runway which could not be built due to issues over the nature of the soil.

Capt. Ranganathan said the volume of air traffic at Chennai did not warrant two airports. Second, the airport site was dotted with waterbodies and attracts a large number of migratory birds, especially from east Europe. Some of the birds move to Vedanthangal, which is further south, and would pose a threat to air traffic.

Further, there were high-tension cables, pylons and mobile towers in the area that pose a hazard.

But the most important point that Capt. Ranganathan highlighted was that the airport site was too close (about eight nautical miles away) to the Indian Navy air station, INS Rajali, in Arakkonam, with over 13,000 ft. long runway. As the base on India’s eastern board for the P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, there would be many operational restrictions given the radius of the no-fly zone. It would have an impact on the air station’s local flying area.

Another environmentalist said this was a hydrologically significant area and that the airport coming up at Parandur was not ecologically and environmentally good for the city.

“They have finalised it with the idea that land parcels are available only here and because there is minimum acquisition of private lands. But that cannot happen over an ecologically sensitive zone. We see what is happening with Pallikaranai. If we can’t take care of Pallikaranai, I’m not sure how we will care for Parandur,” he said.

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