Airport runway expansion project in a limbo

Yet to take-off Land acquisition has been a major hurdle for Puducherry airport runway expansion.   | Photo Credit: T_Singaravelou

Three years after the Airports Authority of India (AAI) submitted a proposal to the territorial administration to acquire around 200 acres of land in Tamil Nadu for expanding the runway by another 500 to 600 metres, the plan is yet to take off.

The plan was to expand the runway from the existing 1,502 m to 2,000 m to facilitate operation of wide-bodied aircraft. The runway was last expanded in 2007.

Land acquisition has become a major stumbling block in the expansion of airport.

Chief Secretary Ashwani Kumar said funds needed for acquisition was a major issue. The fund requirement was estimated to be about ₹300 crore.

Earlier interactions with Tamil Nadu officials suggested that they would help in acquisition on condition that the Government of Puducherry bear the cost of land acquisition. Tamil Nadu was not interested in sharing the cost of the project, the Chief Secretary said.

Kochi model

Meanwhile, a high-level committee had been constituted to engage with, and gain experience from the trail-blazing Kochi International Airport Society, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) set up by Kerala to establish an international airport at Nedumbassery on a public-private partnership model

The SPV had mobilised nearly ₹300 crore from investors in a span of few months and in just three years, the registered company (Cochin International Airport Ltd) had completed construction and launched commercial services.

A committee had been constituted comprising Development Commissioner, Secretary, Department of Tourism and Secretary, Department of Industries, to discuss the way forward.

“A proper airport is a must for the growth of tourism sector here,” Mr. Ashwani Kumar said.

“People, including some officials, were not optimistic when we renewed air operations in 2017. They cited previous unsuccessful attempts to provide air connectivity between Puducherry and other cities. But now the two flights operating from Puducherry were successfully running. It is the same mindset of a section of people that prevents going all out in getting runway expanded and facilitate operations of bigger aircraft,” said a person from the tourism industry who works in close coordination with the Tourism Department. The Union Territory had good scope for operating bigger aircraft considering its industrial base and standing in the tourism sector.

According to Shrikanth R.D., past chairman of Puducherry Chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industry, many companies moved cargo in and out of Chennai. “Industries would prefer to fly in and fly out their cargo if our airport had facility to operate large aircraft,” he said.

Private partnership

The government should consider private partnership in developing the airport. “The expansion of the airport is a must with the government keen on developing the region as an auto hub. It will help in creating employment and revenue,” said Mr. Shrikanth. With hurdles in expanding the runway, secretary of Sederapet Industries Association Secretary M. Nandakumar said the government should push for increasing air operations with the existing facility.

From the existing two ATRs operating in Hyderabad-Puducherry-Hyderabad and Bengaluru-Puducherry-Bengaluru sectors, the government should try to prevail upon private operators to provide connectivity to more cities. Flights to destinations such as Kochi, Coimbatore, Pune and Visakhapatnam would have good patronage, he added.

“The government should persuade AAI to set up night landing facility at the airport. The government should give concession in parking fee to airlines. It will certainly attract more tourists,” he said.

Mr. Shrikanth said flight service to Chennai should be considered as international tourists and businessmen would prefer taking a connecting flight to Puducherry instead of travelling by road. He wanted re-scheduling of the Bengaluru flight as the present timing was inconvenient. “We have many corporate companies here and leadership teams/staff find it very difficult to reach as the timings of current flights is very odd. In addition to the morning flight, the private player should consider starting one more service during evening hours,” he added.

Vijay Upadhya, Director of Puducherry Airport, told The Hindu that AAI was keen on expanding the runway and operating bigger aircraft. However, the preliminary step of land acquisition had to be done by the government, he added.

The air traffic had doubled last year. The aircraft movement has increased from 533 services to 1,308 last year. It had handled 87,000 passengers last year compared to 34,000 the previous year, he added.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 4:20:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/airport-runway-expansion-project-in-a-limbo/article30464812.ece

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