Tamil Nadu may soon be a major hub for international passenger and cargo traffic in the southern region, with the Centre deciding to develop the Coimbatore and Trichy airports into major international airports and open a Greenfield airport in Kannur, Kerala, as a public-private partnership (PPP). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the decisions after meeting a group of senior cabinet ministers to finalise targets for infrastructure for this year as part of an effort to energise the economy.
Chennai is not included in the list of airports which will be developed under PPP mode. Civil aviation ministry earlier discussed a proposal with the planning commission to allow private firms to maintain and manage new domestic and international terminals. Coimbatore and Trichy are custom airports though they handle a few international flights. As these are announced as international airports, “we will be able to develop these airports and provide facilities to handle international flights round the clock. Now, international services can be operated only at specific slots,” said a senior official of the Airports Authority of India (AAI). AAI has firmed up plans to build new passenger terminals and extend existing runway to increase capacity and facilitate handling of wide body aircraft at Coimbatore. But, the project is waiting for land from the state government. The district administration has asked the state government to sanction Rs 600 crore to acquire 600 acres of land. The airport has two international flights daily, one each to Singapore and Sharjah. Once developed, Coimbatore will cater to the western districts of Tamil Nadu and also the northern districts of Kerala.
Development of Trichy airport is also stuck in a land acquisition tangle. AAI plans to expand the runway from 8,000 feet to 12,000 feet, for which it requires land. The district administration has formed a committee to speed up land acquisition, but things are moving at a snail’s pace. The airport now has international flights to Kuala Lumpur and Colombo.