Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kannur Airport to Begin Operation in Three Years

The northern Kerala town of Kannur will be catapulted onto India’s aviation map within three years if everything goes right. According to Home and Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who held talks with the aviation authorities recently, the airport will get final clearance from the federal government once the land acquisition is complete. The state government has already acquired 208 of the 2,000 acres earmarked for the project.

“We have already started acquiring the remaining land and we hope to complete the process in three months. We have also appointed a special officer to speed up land acquisition on a fast-track,” Balakrishnan said.

The largest of Kerala’s four international airports (the existing Cochin, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode being others), the new airport is expected to give a major boost to north Kerala’s huge tourism potential and thriving textile industry. Kannur is among the eight best textile centers in India.

“Land acquisition used to be the biggest hurdle for such big projects but we face absolutely no problem and the process moves ahead well. There are no disputes with the landowners for the land that was identified nearly a decade ago,” he said.

Federal Aviation Minister Praful Patel has promised to grant the final Cabinet clearance once the land acquisition is complete. “It is just a formality since we have received all other clearances,” the minister said.

Explaining that the new airport would be no threat to the Kozhikode airport since the foreign tourist arrivals to the state were maintaining a robust growth of around 25 percent every year, he said there was also an understanding to grant international status to the airport once it is operational.

The government plans to build an airport city in Kannur that will also promote plantation tourism along Kerala’s famous spice route that attracted traders from Europe and Arabia centuries ago.

A tourism circuit is also being developed linking Bekel, Valiyaparamba, Muzhuppilangad and Wayanad.

This would be Kerala’s second corporate airport after the one run by the Cochin International Airport Limited. However, unlike the Cochin airport, the new airport will take the build-operate-transfer (BOT) route.

“We decided to take the BOT route to avoid delay. Our priority is to make the project a reality as it will change the face of Malabar. The government will do everything possible to make it a reality in three years,” the minister said.

He said different investment models were being discussed and the government would soon invite proposals from potential investors. The Kerala Infrastructure Development Corporation (Kinfra) has been appointed as the agency to take the work forward.

The project mooted in 1998 appeared to be getting off the ground when E.K. Nayanar was the chief minister and C.M. Ibrahim the federal aviation minister, both hailing from the same region. But it hit snags after Ibrahim’s successors raised doubts over its feasibility since Kozhikode and Mangalore were close to it.

The airport coming up at Moorkhanparamba near Mattanur has received the Environment Ministry’s clearance as well as the permission from the Aviation Ministry to operate with a single runway recently, after clearing the techno-economic and feasibility hurdles on the decade-old proposal

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