Malabar Mail: Celebrating the spirit of the region

Can hopes take wing again?

Calicut airport urgently needs infrastructural expansions

There is a glimmer of hope for the Calicut airport. For one thing, the prospects of growth in demand for airport infrastructure in the State as a whole are real. But that’s beside the point.

True, no other State enjoys air connectivity of such magnitude in such a narrow strip of land along the Arabian sea. With the commissioning of the Kannur International Airport last year, Kerala became the first State to have four international airports. Malabar also gets the benefit of two other airports as well—Mangaluru and Coimbatore in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively.

The Calicut airport, however, has a few issues to deal with. Despite its memorable three-decade journey, it is at a crossroads, crying for infrastructural expansion. No doubt, the six-month partial closure of the runway last year and the three-year ban on operation of wide-bodied aircraft had a deleterious effect on air passengers.

The airport which caters for the huge Gulf expatriate population of north Kerala had a humble beginning more than 30 years ago. After years of public agitation, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) commissioned operations on Vishu day on April 13, 1988. From just four flights a week, the emergence of the airport as the seventh top international airport now is no mean achievement. It is also one of the 12 major airports based on traffic statistics in terms of actual passenger throughput.

Today, the airport operates 60 international movements (arrivals and departures) and eight domestic flights daily. It handled over 26 lakh international passengers and 5.1 lakh passengers in the domestic sector in the last financial year. Trends show that passenger traffic could cross 60 lakh in the next five years.

It was only after considerable political pressure that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) allowed the three main airlines—Air India, Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airlines), and Emirates—to resume operation of wide-bodied aircraft and with multiple conditions. Saudia alone restored operations from the airport in December after conducting a study and submitting a safety assessment and risk mitigation plan. Air India and Emirates are yet to follow suit.

However, the commissioning of the ₹120-crore international arrival block at the airport has been a huge relief for passengers from Malabar. More needs to be done, though.

It requires at least 137 acres for expanding the 2,700-metre table-top runway. For that purpose, the terrain has to be filled, which seems almost impossible in the wake of floods and landslips. Perhaps the cost of razing hills and filling land for runway extension is on the higher side.

There is still some hope, though, as the Ministry of Civil Aviation has proposed to lease out the Calicut airport along with nine other airports managed by the AAI in a phased manner. This may attract foreign investment and spur development in Malabar including job creation. It could bring efficiency in service delivery, and expertise, enterprise, and professionalism in the civil aviation sector.

Incidentally, public-private partnership (PPP) airports of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Kochi have been ranked the top five in their respective categories by the Airports Council International in terms of airport service quality.

The PPP airports have also helped the AAI enhance its revenues through navigation infrastructure, improvement of air connectivity with more flights and better ground handling services.

(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 9:55:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/can-hopes-take-wing-again/article30383220.ece

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