What they say An air of uncertainty hangs over airport proposals
Will the metropolis get a greenfield airport or just have a new terminal added to the existing facility?
CHENNAI : Hyderabad and Bangalore will have new greenfield airports, perhaps by 2008. Chennai had a head start over them in becoming an aviation gateway to southern India. More international airlines and flights connect Chennai to the rest of the world, and many of these airlines want to increase their services to the Tamil Nadu capital.
But strangely, Chennai's pitch for comprehensive modernisation and expansion of the existing airport has not taken off. Between the Centre and the State Government, a decision needs to be taken whether the metropolis will have a greenfield airport, or just have a new terminal added to the existing facility near Meenambakkam.
Once that decision is taken, the rest may fall into place. If it is going to be a new airport, it may require about 5,000 acres of land, which becomes a critical and sensitive issue. It may take, at least, three years to get such an airport in place.
As an alternative, if the Governments settle for just another terminal building, the airport needs to be redesigned and upgraded to international standards. Even then, a sizeable extent of land becomes essential to achieve that objective. But land seems to be the toughest challenge ahead for the State Government and the Airports Authority of India.
Depending on the decision, the Centre, that is, the Aviation Ministry and the AAI, will have to decide the model: should it be an AAI project, or go the Delhi or Mumbai way to a private sector- led consortium.
The delay in taking this crucial decision on the future of the Chennai airport may even impact its current position and role in the aviation network — international, regional and domestic. Already, aircraft movement, passenger traffic and cargo handling have shown a steady and significant increase over the years. In 2006-07, the growth in the domestic passenger traffic was 38 per cent (at nearly 58 lakh), while international passenger traffic grew by 6.30 per cent (at almost 27.75 lakh). AAI sources project a 16 per cent growth in international passenger traffic, and a 20 per cent rise in domestic passengers over the next five years.
Going by the latest reports from New Delhi, it appears that the State Government may settle for a new terminal building. That is why it has reportedly identified about 700 to 800 acres of land for the expansion.
Can the existing airport handle this growth? After all, the AAI has been implementing expansion and modernisation projects here in recent years. The Anna International terminal and the Kamaraj domestic terminals were constructed in the1980s.
Airport Director Dinesh Kumar says the present expansion work will help in both passenger and aircraft movement for the next five years. But the expansion requires additional land. As soon as the required land is allocated, the development works can begin.
On the benefits of a greenfield airport, Mr. Dinesh Kumar explains that there are distinct advantages as it can be planned with a futuristic perspective. As far as the AAI is concerned, there are no plans at present to build a new airport. But, a second domestic module was on the drawing board, for which global architects have submitted their designs to the AAI.
As part of improving facilities, the Authority added 20 parking bays last year and another 16 will be added in the current financial year. The bays were used by airlines to park their aircrafts at night. On amenities for the passengers, Mr. Dinesh Kumar says on-line baggage screening system has been introduced. Chennai will be the first airport where the system would be introduced in the country. Similarly, a new slope-type baggage conveyor system will be installed in the international arrival area to replace the flat-type conveyor system.
All these are perhaps interim, adhoc arrangements and improvements.
The question before the State Government is whether a new terminal in the existing airport is adequate to meet the projected demands for at least two or three decades? Will there be enough space then to take up further expansion when required?
Or will it be a better option to go in for a full-fledged Greenfield airport that can cater to the needs of at least 30 years, with enough space for expansion? The answers to these questions may be available very soon.
(With inputs from P. Oppili and Susan Muthalaly) LINK