‘NRI presence, a strong point for setting up Kannur airport’

AJ Vinayak | Updated on November 22, 2018 Published on November 22, 2018

V Thulasidas, MD of Kannur International Airport Ltd   -  BY_SPECIAL_ARRANGEMENT

Inauguration on Dec 9 with Air India Express Kannur-Abu Dhabi flight

Kerala is set to get its fourth international airport at Mattannur in Kannur district. The first flight will take off from Kannur International Airport to Abu Dhabi on December 9. Being developed by Kannur International Airport Ltd (KIAL), the airport is a public-private partnership project with the participation of the Kerala government, Airports Authority of India and NRIs from the region. V Thulasidas, a former IAS officer, who also served as the Chairman and Managing Director of Air India, is now heading KIAL as its Managing Director. Optimistic about the future of the airport, he wants to make the airport an ultimate destination for NRIs, international tourists and domestic travellers. In an interview to BusinessLine in Kannur recently, Thulasidas spoke on this new airport in the aviation map of Kerala. Excerpts:

Why an airport for Kannur when Kozhikode is hardly 120 km from Kannur?

The demand for an international airport in this place is very strong because of the large presence of non-resident Indians (NRIs). In fact, this north Malabar region actually has the second largest concentration of Gulf Malayalis. (after Malappuram). NRI demand was the strong point for establishing an airport here, and the first flight itself will be an international one. (Air India Express will operate Kannur-Abu Dhabi flight on December 9.)

Which are the catchment areas for Kannur airport?

Our catchment area, which will feed traffic and cargo, consists of northern Malabar region. Northern Malabar means a half of Kozhikode district, Wayanad district almost in full, Mahe (under the Union Territory of Puducherry), and Kannur and Kasaragod districts in Kerala. Because of its proximity to Kodagu and other neighbouring districts of Karnataka, passengers will find it convenient to come to Kannur airport.

Will Kannur airport eat into the traffic of Kozhikode and Mangaluru airports?

Any new airport will obviously take some traffic from others because the people who are travelling from Kannur are already taking flights from some other airports. Kannur airport is coming up only now. But an advantage here is that an airport nearer home increases travel opportunities and travel frequency for those who travel.

If you take the example of Kerala, there was only one airport in Thiruvananthapuram long ago. Kochi used to have a small runway at Willingdon Island and it was for the Navy. That was used for civil air operations also with great limitations. Kochi built another airport later, and then Kozhikode also got an airport. Despite Kochi and Kozhikode coming up, Thiruvananthapuram airport has not declined. It is still doing well. In fact, it has grown.

What is the total cost of the airport project?

The original project cost was ₹1,892 crore. This included the cost of the land which was acquired by the Kerala government and transferred to us as their share of the equity in the project. Initially, we were given 1,200 acres as government’s share of equity in the project. The finished cost now will be about ₹450 crore more. It could be around ₹2,300 crore.

What is the length of runway? Is there any plans to extend it?

The current runway length is 3,050 metres. We are planning to extend it to 4,000 metres. The process of land acquisition is under way for the purpose. We are not constrained for land for the development of the airport in future also. Runway can be extended. If we need a second runway in future, that is also possible.

Which are the destinations to be connected with Kannur airport?

Air India Express will initially connect international destinations such as Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Doha and Sharjah. Later, it will also connect Muscat, and perhaps Dubai.

For domestic, we are in discussions with two-three airlines. They are seeking our opinion on the strong routes for them. We said Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram could be the ones.

What is the passenger traffic projection for the airport?

Initially, we expect to handle around 1.8 million passengers a year. The traffic will also keep escalating every year. We can handle 2,000 passengers per hour at the airport. This is the original capacity. But the terminal has been built slightly bigger. So we should be able to handle more.

Can you highlight the projected share of domestic and international passengers?

Initially, we thought 80 per cent would be international passengers and 20 per cent domestic. But now we understand that Indian aviation has grown differently.

According to IATA, the domestic growth is very significant in the last three-four years. For international, we put such a high factor because of the Gulf passengers. I think we will have to revise that now, and give more weightage to domestic passengers.

Finally, what is the USP of Kannur airport compared with the other three airports in Kerala?

Kannur has a large catchment area with high potential for traffic. We have built a modern airport. In all, we have succeeded in providing the latest facilities at the airport. Most airports take time to come to this level, as they were built earlier.

Published on November 22, 2018

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