Union Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha’s remark that the greenfi eld airport near Chennai is stuck over the availability of land is one of those statements that serve little purpose other than sidestepping the important issue: land is in short supply. The situation in Tamil Nadu is instructive of the situation elsewhere — if not now, certainly in the near future. Chennai airport is bursting at its seams due to ever-increasing passengers. The need for expansion is evident. So is the lack of available land near the existing facility. The only way out is to create a new facility.
About four years ago, the International Civil Aviation Organisation submitted a report to the Airports Authority of India recommending this. Then, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, an important funding agency for India, submitted a report saying Chennai airport would not be able to handle the burgeoning traffi c by 2020-21. The inertia, thus, is not due to lack of prodding but despite it.
Beyond the luxury tag it carries from the earlier decades, an airport essentially requires only some basic facilities: a good tarmac with ground-handling facilities, security arrangements and transport linking passengers to the city centre. As they require large tracts of land, all new airports can come only outside cities. The “long distance” was among the questions raised about the Chennai proposal. But as is clear from the case of the international airports at Kochi and Bengaluru, this alone does not affect the feasibility of the project.
Also, as cities develop both in space and technology, with suburbs becoming part of the core, distance is a relative a concept. If the authorities can also plan Metro Rail connectivity, the trip will only take about an hour — about the same it takes to reach the existing airport in Chennai from anywhere in the city. Land and distance are not valid reasons, but merely excuses repeated ad nauseam. Let’s look beyond them.