Last time, we left off where the Airport is poised today with a brand new, world-class terminal to be finished in 2008 and a massive MRO facility to be operational in early-2009. So where does the Trivandrum International Airport go from here?
There are a number of plans in progress for the continued growth of India's fifth and one of its fastest growing International Airports. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has big plans for Trivandrum.
Further Terminal expansion
Phases I & II of the New Terminal will create nearly 350,000 sq.ft of space by end-2008/early-2009 with up to five aerobridges to handle a total of up to 8-10 international flights at a time. At this time, domestic operations will continue on the Beach side terminal complex, where the existing International terminal (T-2) will be taken over for domestic flights, providing much needed capacity.
The construction of Phases III & IV will commence once the 100-odd acres of land being acquired by the Govt. on the banks of the T.S. Canal are handed over to AAI. Progressively, about one million sq.ft. of space will come up in the expanded terminal which will eventually take over domestic operations as well.
At this time, the Beach side complex would be completely decommissioned and razed to the ground.
The question of how this space would be utilised is open. Some of the possible options include:
- Using the area for construction additional terminal space for future expansion of the Airport. But this would mean that the new terminals would be as circuitous to reach as the current terminals, unless something path-breaking - like a road tunnel under the main runway - is built.
- The area can be handed over to the Indian Air Force/Coast Guard. Trivandrum's strategic importance is increasing by the day with the coming of massive developments like the Vizhinjam Port, Aerospace Command and defence manufacturing units like Brahmos. The Air Force is increasing its presence in the South to extend its reach over the Indian Ocean where China is trying to exert its influence. (This has become a burning topic, enough to spark wide coverage in the global media like this or this.) With the Southern Air Command headquartered in Trivandrum, the IAF would surely love to have more space to park a few long-range Mirage 2000 or Su-30 MKI strike aircraft here. The flip side is that an expanded military presence could hinder civilian operations.
- A new Cargo Terminal and/or Refuelling Hub can be setup. With its strategic location at the tip of India and on major international air routes, Trivandrum is possibly the best choice for an international air cargo hub in India. India's largest and deepest container transshipment port coming up just 15 Kms from the Airport is a big boost to this concept. Airports like Memphis International, Hong Kong or Anchorage. India's rapidly growing trade with South-East Asia, China and the US will help boost the cargo traffic. Another business opportunity is to have a re-fueling hub at Trivandrum to cater to the hundreds of aircraft which pass overhead daily, most of which today refuel at Singapore by making a costly deviation from their flight paths. However, this will necessitate the lowering of duties on jet fuel to make it attractive for international airlines to refuel here. The main spin-off will be the massive increase in international connectivity due to the flights which land here for fuel.
- Use the space for non-aeronautical uses. The demolition of the existing Terminals - T-1 and T-2 - will leave nearly 50 acres of prime land open for redevelopment. Possible uses could include an IT/ITES park, hotels and/or a R&D - manufacturing facility for the aerospace industry. The space could be developed on a PPP basis with private developers building and operating the facility while AAI gets a share of the revenue.
A New Airport
Eventually, in perhaps less than 10 years' time, the current airport will become saturated as its metro brethren have already become. Even by acquiring small additional parcels of land, TIA may not be able to meet the demands of a metropolitan city with over 200,000 IT professionals alone. The final bottleneck could be the runway itself. Bounded in by the sea, waterways, roads and the railway line, there is almost no chance of building a second runway in TIA (I say "almost no" instead of just plain "no chance" because of mind-blowing engineering feats like this.)
The only real solution to accomodate the ever increasing traffic would be to build a brand-new airport away from the city. Not too far away of course, as Bangalore and Hyderabad are learning to their expense, but outside the urban area. A location close to Attingal or slightly beyond will be ideal, in terms of availability of space and the land cost. Just 10 Kms from the periphery of the city and 25 Kms from the city centre, the new Trivandrum International Airport will be easy to access, especially if a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) or Light Rail (LRT)route is put in place along with the existing NH-47. The new Airport will also be closer to Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts and will also have connectivity via the M.C. Road. And once the proposed highway to Thirunelveli via Ambasamudram is complete, it can also be accessed from the neighbouring districts of Tamilnadu in 2-3 hours.
The new International Airport ideally should be setup on at least 1500 acres of land so as to future proof it against further land acquisition. This should be sufficient to accomodate two runways and up to 3 million sq.ft. of terminal space, a full-fledged cargo terminal as well as extensive aircraft parking and refueling facilities. The Airport will also house an expanded MRO facility, shifted from the existing Airport. This new TIA will be able to handle the 10-15 million passengers who would pass through by 2020 or so, when the traffic will level off after the rapid expansion due to mega-projects like Technocity, Vizhinjam and the proposed Information Technology Investment Region (ITIR).
For one instant, we are left doubting where the money for all this will come from, after all we are not talking about a metro airport here. The answer is evident enough, from 600-odd acres of prime real estate - the site of the existing airport. Once the New Airport is commissioned, the existing one can be progressively shut down, demolished and handed over for redevelopment. The worst case is that some space will have to retained for military operations, even then there will be atleast 200-300 acres of land available to build offices, homes, malls and more. On a PPP basis, the revenue from the redevelopment of the land can be used to fund the New Airport's initial costs. Any developer will jump at the chance to develop land worth thousands of crores in exchange for paying a premium to AAI or the Govt.
Going a step further, the New Airport can be integrated with the ITIR to create an Aerotropolis (Read more about it here.). This is a city centred on a major airport, whose main businesses are related to aeronautical activities or directly dependent on them. With over 20 million sq.ft of IT space and aerospace industries like the new campus of Brahmos Aerospace and ISRO right next door, an aerotropolis is an excellent idea.
After the IT-led expansion which we are seeing now and which is likely to take us till about 2020, the next wave of expansion for Trivandrum in the North could be led by a new Airport. Let's look forward to a future where not even the sky can be a limit!