Flight Plan

Mumbai’s search for a new terminal

Updated on: Nov 01, 2016
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Navi Mumbai was selected as the site for a new airport almost a decade ago, but there are still doubts if it’s the right choice, writes Rahul Wadke

There is little doubt that Mumbai needs another airport — the one that serves it now just can’t handle the skyrocketing traffic growth.

Consider this: By 2034, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) will have traffic of 100 Million Passenger Per Annum (MPPA). As per forecasts, passenger traffic for MMR is set to cross 45 MPPA by fiscal 2018. Mumbai airport has already handled 42 million passengers in fiscal 2016. Considering airside constraints, Mumbai airport may not be able to handle peak traffic above 45 MPPA.

The opinions, however, are divided as to where the new airport should come up.

Should it be in Navi Mumbai, the first choice that has many things going against it, including some environmental concerns? Or should it be set up in Kalyan, the new favourite among the experts but not exactly next door? Both have their pluses and minuses and different groups rooting for them. But whatever the decision, it has to be made quickly as the existing airport in Mumbai is bursting at its seams.

A brief history

Navi Mumbai was chosen as the site for a new airport in July 2007, when the project was approved by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. This was followed three years later with environmental clearances from the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment in November 2010. During these nine years the country has seen two Prime Ministers and the state has seen four Chief Ministers, but there are still no signs of the new airport.

Unfortunately, there is little hope of the Navi Mumbai airport coming up anytime soon. Though the Request for Proposals (RFPs) has already been floated and business houses are expected to submit their final bids by January , CIDCO is yet to acquire 561 hectares of the 2,265 hectares required for the core airport operations at the airport, says Mohan Ninawe, Communications Head of CIDCO.

The City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd. (CIDCO), is the lead project developer of the airport.

Groups that will submit RFPs include Voluptas Developers (Hiranandani Group) in a consortium with Zurich Airport International; MIA Infrastructure (VINCI Airports and Tata Reality), Mumbai International Airport Private Limited and GMR Airports Ltd.

The project continues to face opposition from local residents and 950 project affected families are yet to relocate. Without them moving, work such as demolishing and removal of utilities cannot start.

High-profile visit

Realising the enormous challenges, there is talk once again of building the new airport in Kalyan. The interest in Kalyan has been triggered by a recent visit to Mumbai by Ashok Gajapathi Raju, the Union Civil Aviation Minister.

Accompanied by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, he not just carried out a survey of the Navi Mumbai airport site, but also of an alternative site at Nevali village near Kalyan in Thane district.

While officials at the Centre say that the aerial survey of Kalyan was done to explore it as a temporary airport site till the Navi Mumbai airport began operations, many analysts argue that Kalyan is the right choice and the Navi Mumbai plan should be dropped.

Interestingly, before environmental clearances were granted to the Navi Mumbai site, alternatives such as Nevali in Thane and Rewas-Mandwa in Raigad district were considered. At Nevali village about 1,700 acres of barren land is available with the Defence Ministry, which used to serve as an airstrip during the British period.

Sudhir Badami, a transportation expert, feels that Kalyan is an appropriate site for an airport as it is located in the golden triangle area of Mumbai, Pune and Nashik.

“The Navi Mumbai airport will come up but a lot of industrial development is expected to happen near the golden triangle and the airport (at Kalyan) will offer faster connectivity to the three cities. Passengers will face huge traffic on the roads if they have to access the Navi Mumbai site,” he says.

Aviation expert Hormuz Mama says that the Navi Mumbai site for the new airport is problem-ridden.

For starters, the main airport area to be located on just 1,160 hectares — is totally inadequate for a large airport that will be designed to handle about 100 million passengers a year, he adds.

Mama also points out that the Nevali site is only about 1,700 acres but an additional 1,300 acres can be procured without much fuss.

The site is about 50 km from Mumbai, but that is not too far if the infrastructure is improved. It is also just 12 km away from the Kalyan railway station. “The most important advantage is that there are hardly any environmental issues involved. The only obstructions are the low Malangad Hills to its west,” he says.

At the moment the only ray of hope for the ₹15,000-crore Navi Mumbai project comes from Jayant Sinha, the Minister of State for Civil Aviation. During the recently concluded Parliament session, the Minister told Lok Sabha that the Navi Mumbai airport project had received all approvals except Stage II forest clearance, which was expected soon.

“Phase I of aircraft operations with the capacity to handle 10 million passengers per annum is expected to commence by December 2019,” Sinha told Parliament in July. But the launch date of Navi Mumbai airport has now been pushed to May 2020 after receiving feedback from the bidders.

Whether this deadline will be met or missed yet again, and if the location will be Navi Mumbai or Kalyan is something that everyone is waiting to see.

With inputs from Ashwini Phadnis

Published on January 15, 2018

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