SECOND INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT FOR CHENNAI
With the emergence on the scene in Chennai of a private company acquiring land for a greenfield airport, finally there is light at the end of the tunnel!
AREPORT IN THE MEDIA on June 10, 2017, indicated that a private company had acquired 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) of land near Maduranthagam, 75 km southwest of Chennai. The private company is reported to be in talks with the Ministry of Civil Aviation to construct the second international airport to serve the city of Chennai. This came as a welcome news not only for the Indian airlines industry, but more so for the people of Chennai.
The existing Chennai International Airport is located at Meenambakkam, 15 km south-west of the downtown. With the city of Chennai expanding well beyond the airport, practically, there is very little scope for expansion of airport infrastructure. With the current population of Chennai at ten million and growing, this is the fourth busiest airport in the country in terms of total passenger traffic and is ranked after the international airports at Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. In Asia, it is ranked as the 49th busiest. In the last financial year, the airport handled 18.3 million passengers as also more than 400 aircraft movements per day.
Apart from the expansion of the existing airport though somewhat limited, as per the Vision 2023 document of the Government of Tamil Nadu, there has been a plan on the anvil for several years to build a new greenfield international airport at Sriperumbudur to cater for the anticipated growth in civil air traffic. The peak capacity that can be achieved at the existing airport with the expansion of infrastructure that is possible is limited to 23 million.
A report prepared by the Japan International Cooperation Agency ( JICA) stated that a second airport in Chennai was absolutely necessary as the demand for passenger traffic was expected to surpass capacity by the year 2021. A feasibility report was even prepared by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and was submitted to the Government of Tamil Nadu. As per the ICAO report, the new international airport was envisaged to be built on 4,823 acres (1,930 hectares) of land at Sriperumbudur in two phases. It would ultimately have four runways with two passenger terminals and at the end of the second phase, would have the capacity of handling 40 million passengers annually. The Air- ports Authority of India has revised the requirement of land to around 2,000 acres (800 hectares).
In the perception of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Chennai airport would be one of the global hubs of India along with the airports at Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Unfortunately, the project for the greenfield airport at Chennai has remained merely on paper and an exercise in futility. The major hurdle appears to have been the non-availability of the huge tracts of land that is needed for the project and the inability on the part of the Government of Tamil Nadu to acquire it. In a proposal for the second airport floated earlier on, the Government of Tamil Nadu had identified nearly 4,500 acres (1,800 hectares) of land spread across 42 villages in Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts. But that proposal too died a natural death.
There is little doubt that the four metros as also Bengaluru and Hyderabad do require a second international airport. After much dithering and delay, the government appears to have finalised plans for building the second international airport for the National Capital Region in Greater Noida where the government has acquired 2,378 acres (950 hectares) of land for the project. To provide relief for Mumbai airport, which was reaching traffic saturation, plan for the second airport was conceived in 1997.
Two decades have gone by and despite all approvals in place, construction is yet to begin. Efforts to build a second runway at Bengaluru and Hyderabad are likely to be affected by an agreement with the operators of the two facilities that no other airport will be permitted within a radius 150 km of the existing airport. The government will have to explore legal or even political options to get over this impediment. Both these cities would require a second international airport in not too distant a future given the rate of growth of passenger traffic in India.
So far, the issue of locating and building airports has been in the domain of the Central and state governments with the latter responsible for providing the vast tracts of land needed. With the emergence on the scene in Chennai of a private company acquiring land for a greenfield airport, finally there is light at the end of the tunnel!