Chennai will have the first international airport in India that has a river running through it if the Tamil Nadu government’s land acquisition plans for rehauling the aerodrome go forward.
The state government has identified land for expansion of the Aringar Anna International Airport, the country’s third-biggest in terms of passengers handled, across the Adyar river, which falls partly in the adjoining Kanchipuram district.
Efforts to expand the airport have been hit by the densely populated areas around it and the option of building a new airport in the city has not been favoured by the civil aviation ministry, which feels two airports are not financially viable for the city.
The state government has written to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) suggesting the airport be expanded northwards into the surrounding villages of Kovur, Thandalam, Periapanicheri, Gerugambakkam, Kulapakkam, Manapakkam, Tharaipakkam and Gowl Bazaar. About a third of the land identified—which is still less than 60% of the 1,440 acres AAI has said is needed for expansion—falls on the other side of the Adyar, which runs almost parallel to the current 1,000 acre airport.
The two sides will need to be connected by a special bridge if the plans are approved.
AAI will now evaluate if the 832 acres identified is adequate for the aiport’s expansion. “We are drawing plans to evaluate if this extent of land would be sufficient for modernization of the Chennai airport. Unless we can build a new parallel runway, there could be no significant capacity development,” said a AAI senior official, preferring not to be identified.
The evaluation could take up to three months.
If the land is found adequate, AAI is likely to decide in favour of modernization of the airport rather than build a new one. Civil aviation secretary Ashok Chawla said earlier this month that the upgradation will be on the lines of the model followed in Mumbai and Delhi, where private-led consortia are rebuilding and expanding airports.
This financial year, AAI has invested about Rs60 crore in the Chennai airport to extend the international terminal and construct new parking bays for planes. Passenger traffic, however, is growing fast, perhaps too fast to keep pace with. Chennai’s airport is expected to close this fiscal year with 8.6 million passengers passing through its gates, about 28% more than the 6.7 million in 2005-06.
But Kapil Kaul, an analyst with Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, predicts the city will need a new airport to keep up with the growing passenger traffic. “They may be looking at a brownfield expansion first, which will take care of the next five years. But eventually, they will need a new airport,” he said.
The proposal to expand the Chennai airport is being opposed by a key political ally of the government, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, which says it will support the development of a new airport.