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Tamil Nadu cruises to new heights with expansion of airports

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With passenger traffic, aircraft movement and cargo handling reaching a new high, the Tamil Nadu government has taken steps to speed up land acquisition for expanding six airports in the state.
Airports Authority of India (AAI) has been asking the state government to acquire land at Chennai, Madurai, Coimbatore, Trichy, Salem and Tuticorin, as the Union government is pushing for regional connectivity scheme to boost air connectivity to small cities. The airports need lengthier runways, taxiways and terminals to handle bigger planes and passengers. Madurai, Coimbatore and Trichy can handle A320 and B737 narrow-body planes while Salem and Tuticorin can handle only 60-seater ATR and bombardier planes. The expansion is aimed at equipping the airports to handle wide-body planes like B777, B787 and other giant cargo planes.

In response, airlines have started showing interest in operating more flights from Salem, Trichy, Tuticorin, Madurai and Coimbatore which have huge potential for domestic and international connectivity.
The civil aviation ministry and the state government have been holding a series of meetings to complete the expansion plan and district collectors have issued notifications to acquire land to speed up land acquisition. Transfer of defence land in Chennai and Trichy will take place soon, sources said.

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Orders have been issued to acquire 99 acres of land for Chennai airport expansion, while release of Rs166 crore has been sanctioned towards acquisition of 466 acres of patta land in Madurai. In Coimbatore, the state has released `176 crore towards interim award and laid out plans to revise compensation for land in 22 revenue blocks. The plan is to acquire 134 acres of defence land as well. The process is on to acquire 338 acres from defence estates in Trichy.
Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami held a review meeting with the transport minister and bureaucrats last week. "We are working very closely with all stakeholders — AAI and defence — to see the airport expansion projects are speeded up," transport secretary PWC Davidar said. Chennai airport director, G Chandramouli said the next round of talks between the aviation ministry and state government is likely to take place by the month-end. A little over 33 acres of defence land in Chennai has been earmarked for parallel taxiway.
Trichy international airport, which has only 8,127ft long runway, does not cater to larger aircraft. Trichy Airport Advisory Committee member M Sekaran said cargo handling is difficult. The business community of Coimbatore recently requested Union home minister Rajnath Singh to give Coimbatore the ‘hub and spoke’ airport status, after Chennai. The tag will ensure that immigration formalities are done in the city itself.

AAI wants to extend the present runway (2,970m long) to 3,800m and build a new terminal to expand capacity at Coimbatore. The manufacturing hub is facing several impediments in the form of lack of international connectivity, and business travellers from the city are forced to use Kochi, Trichy, Bengaluru and Chennai airports. "The business communities of Tirupur, Karur, Nilgiris, Salem, Erode and Namakkal also avail Coimbatore airport. We have been meeting the minister and officials to speed up the expansion work," Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Vanitha Mohan said. Despite catering to seven districts, Coimbatore airport sees only three international flights daily.
Salem collectorate has issued notifications to acquire land in 10 blocks. The plan is to acquire 567 acres in 22 blocks, mostly for the expansion of Salem airport’s runway. Selected areas include Kamalapuram, Thumbipadi, Pottiapuram and Sikkanampatti panchayats.

However, locals agitate vigorously. "Those who gave up their lands in 1989 did not get adequate relief and ended up in courts. All opposition parties stand by us. We will resist the government’s move," said P Vinoth of Sattur in Pottiapuram panchayat, who will lose his five acres.
AAI wants to extend the runway at Madurai airport from the existing 7,500ft to 12,500ft, to handle wide-bodied planes. A senior AAI official said passenger traffic was growing and airlines like IndiGo and SpiceJet are expanding their fleet and adding destinations in the south. "There is an urgent need to add facilities at these airports and improve them so that passenger and cargo traffic can be increased. The expansion process should start soon so that the work can be completed in the next three to four years," he added.


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