With a ₹10,000-crore fund and multi-company team, this Chennai firm is on an airport-building mission

T E Raja Simhan | | Updated on: Jul 01, 2019

With the Chennai airport likely to reach saturation in 10 years, the AAI is looking for a greenfield project in the outskirts of the city | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

TOFL’s first project may be a new airport in Chennai

With the Centre’s strong push to infrastructure creation, Chennai-based Taking Off to the Future Pvt Ltd (TOFL) plans to develop private airports, both greenfield and brownfield. To this end, it has formed a SEBI-approved, airport-specific ₹10,000-crore fund.

The Taking Off to the Future Airport Fund is a Category II Alternative Investment Fund (AIF), and supposedly a first of its kind in the airport sector.

A sovereign fund has shown interest in investing around 30 per cent in the AIF, Gigi George, Managing Director, TOFL, told BusinessLine .

TOFL will target a deal that will generate an annual gross internal rate of return (IRR) of 20 per cent on investments, he said.

Airport development is not new to George, who tried unsuccessfully to create a greenfield project at Aranmula in Kerala.

The Aranmula experience

The project failed to take off due to strong opposition from the local community. “It was a great learning that helped me to try my hand again at private airport development, which looks very promising,” he said.

George’s optimism is backed by a strong air traffic growth of 15-20 per cent in the last five years. This momentum is reportedly likely to continue.

The total passenger traffic (both domestic and international) in the last 10 years has increased by over five times to 344 million. With an annual growth rate of nearly 11 per cent, the country will require airport development worth $100 billion in the next 10 years, said George.

For airport development, George has formed a team consisting of Larsen & Toubro (for construction), Netherlands Airport Consultants BV (planning, design and engineering), Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas (legal), Star Global Aero Solutions (consultancy) and RITES Ltd (consultancy).

Integrated team

“We will go together as a team for all airport projects,” he said.

To begin with, TOFL is keen to develop a greenfield project south of Chennai at a cost of nearly ₹4,500 crore.

With the existing Chennai airport likely to reach saturation in 10 years, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is looking for a greenfield project in the outskirts of the city.

George said around 1,500 acres of land located 52 km from Chennai airport, between Chengelpattu and Madurantakam, has been acquired. The location is ideal to develop an international airport-cum-aerotropolis/integrated township on nearly 3,500 acres, he said, adding: “The AAI has shown interest in the location but the State government is yet to give its clearance.”

Key challenges

The biggest challenge for an airport developer is in handling complexities of issues such as identifying the land bank and obtaining various regulatory approvals that have administrative and political bearing, industry experts have said. The gestation period is very long. This means the developer needs to have deep pockets. For this, a dedicated sector fund for airport development is a welcome one, experts feel.

However, the success of such funds will depend on the ability of the investor to keep the time between drawing plans and launching operations to the minimum, said B Govindarajan, Chief Operating Officer, Tirwin Management Service, a Chennai-based aviation consultancy firm.

Published on July 01, 2019
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