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Can there be a new sunrise for our airports?

Image result for airport in tamilnaduIt's 11pm. The domestic terminal of Chennai airport is winding up its day's business. A few red-eye flights are the only operation the terminal will see till dawn. But 35,000 to 40,000 feet over the city, the sky is busy. More than 300 flights — most of them A380 and wide-bodied jets — are cruising down from South East Asia on their route to the Middle East and Europe. But, none of them will land in Chennai, not even during an emergency, as the airport is yet to be ready to handle unexpected landing of giant planes that carry more than 500 passengers.
The four airports in the state — Chennai, Trichy, Coimbatore and Madurai — all in close proximity of less than an hour's flight, are well placed in peninsular India over which international air routes criss cross. However, airports in southern India are not in the scheme of things of airlines that operate intercontinental jets. Due to lack of political will and interest of the civil aviation ministry, Chennai and other airports in the state are not in a position to take advantage of the TN's geographical position to capitalise on the traffic.
Soon after two new terminals were opened at Chennai airport in 2013, the then chairman of Airports Authority of India (AAI) V P Agrawal announced plans to make Chennai a hub on the lines of Dubai and Singapore, inviting airlines to set up their base in Chennai.
However, the announcement could not be followed up with action in terms of providing facilities for airlines. As Chennai airport grappled with inadequate space, constraints of unchecked housing developments on its boundaries and bureaucratic straightjacket, airlines shifted base to Bengaluru and Hyderabad. AirAsia set the trend. Regional airlines which have bid routes to small towns under the Udan scheme of the ministry of civil aviation are following suit. Trujet, one of the biggest players in Udan operates out of Hyderabad, while it is highly unlikely that SpiceJet or Indigo which have ordered more than 50 70-seater ATR planes for Udan routes will base any of them in Chennai.
Aviation experts say that airports in peninsular India are not equipped to handle wide-bodied planes like A380s due to the absence of lengthy runways, parking bays and taxiways. The four airports together need 1000 acres for expansion which has not been allotted though a request was made more than 10 years ago.
A senior AAI official said airlines plan international traffic according to the hub-and-spoke model. "Airlines move their passengers from different cities to hubs like Singapore and Dubai and then take them on giant planes to Europe and the US." Chennai cannot handle these planes because the runway is narrow, not enough to accommodate the wingspan of an A380.
Experts said that an airport with three parallel runways is a must to attract the international traffic. Singapore — much away from the intercontinental air routes — and Dubai airports are able to attract airlines because they have better ground infrastructure including runways, taxiways and parking bays and function as self-sufficient cities.
All hopes are now on the proposed greenfield airport. Minister of state for aviation Jayant Sinha recently said that the greenfield airport would be developed into an aero city. Chennai airport director G Chandramouli said, "Chennai airport has its limitations but the new airport which is being planned will have space for an A380 so that airlines would be able to operate flights from Chennai to long-haul destinations."

This also means the city may have to wait for another 20 years to be a hub, going by the track record of the attempt to build a greenfield airport at Sriperumbudur. Nearly 10 years after it was mooted, the state government said that it cannot provide land for the airport. AAI feels that it will take minimum of 10 years for construction of the new project to take off.
Former pilot and air safety consultant Captain Mohan Ranganathan said, "Airlines could not focus on Chennai because the airport was not developed well. The second runway extension was a disaster. AAI gave NoC for construction around the airport hampering the main runway. There is no point in planning a hub anymore here because we lost a chance five years ago."
Ranganathan said the civil aviation ministry, AAI and Air India were focused only on Delhi and Mumbai. "They did not realise the potential of traffic driven by IT, manufacturing and leather industries from Chennai to the US and the Far East. Travel agents have constantly said that they can assure 230 passengers per day on Chennai-Seoul or Chennai-Hong Kong flights with an onward link to the US."
The Chennai-Seoul or Hong Kong connection would also help the airlines to bring in Buddhist pilgrims from South Korea, Hong Kong and connect them to Colombo via Chennai, he said


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