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September 30, 1998


The Rediff Business Special/ Kerala's airports

Upcoming Kochi airport sends shivers down its competitors

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D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram With a new airport of international standards nearing completion at Kochi, the commercial hub of Kerala, threat perceptions of other airports and the lobbies representing them are acquiring intensity.

The airport is the first to be built by the private sector in India. Nedumbasserry International Airport Limited is the company implementing the project.

The Rs 20 billion first phase of the Nedumbasserry International Airport, built in traditional Kerala temple style, is expected to be ready for commissioning by the beginning of 1999.

That would be more than a year behind schedule. It was originally scheduled for commissioning in August 1997 to coincide with 50 years of India's Independence and as a golden jubilee gift for the nation. Unexpected delays due to rain and other factors upset the plans.

The airport boasts of 200,000 square feet fully air-conditioned domestic and international terminals, a long runway, taxiways, apron, navigational aids, technical block, control tower, refuelling facility and sophisticated fire-fighting and other safety facilities required to accommodate heavy aircraft like Boeing 747. Only New Delhi and Bombay airports have refuelling facilities.

Kochi lies on the Moscow-Sydney route. It figures on the the shortest route from India to the Far East and the Middle East, a fact that is bothering all the airports in and outside of south India.

The airport is designed in such a way that Indian and foreign airlines will treat Kochi as a 'hub' for 'hub-and-spokes' operations -- that is, using domestic airlines to feed international services.

The airport is expected to provide a big boost to tourism, besides industry, trade and commerce in the state. It is expected to be of immense benefit to the exporters of floriculture, seafood and software in and around Kochi.

Non-resident Indians in central Kerala, most of whom are in the United States and Europe besides the Middle East, are expected to benefit a great deal. An incoming passenger can place orders for bulk items with the spacious duty-free shops and pick them on their arrival.

All these facts are unnerving people who hearts beat for other airports. The first wave of resentment rose not from outside the state but from nearby Thiruvananthapuram, where the state's only international airport is located.

State legislator Antony Raju (ruling Left Front/Kerala Congress-J) feels Kochi airport might thrive at the cost of Thiruvananthapuram airport.

Some airlines recently cancelled a few schedules to the state capital. Raju sees in this a pointer to the things to come. He told the Rediff On The NeT that airline companies were planning cancellation of 20 schedules from Thiruvananthapuram in order to make room for Kochi.

His party has already announced its decision to launch a picketing of the airline companies in protest against the proposed cancellation.

The Kozhikode lobby is also feeling threatened. The city has the benefit of 32 international operations to the Gulf sector every week. So much so that the airport expansion was launched even without funds from the central kitty, to strengthen its position before Kochi could establish itself.

The thriving travel industry in the Malabar region fears its business will substantially dwindle once Kochi commences operations.

So far it was worried only about the lobbies representing airports in northern and western India. They were most scared by the Mumbai lobby, which they alleged was choking the development of airports in Kerala, particularly the Thiruvananthapuram airport. The Kerala assembly speaker had led a campaign against the Mumbai lobby in the past.

Interestingly, the regional lobbyists have not been as open in their attack against Kochi as they are against airports outside the state.


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