KOCHI: After Thiruvananthapuram, another major airport in Kerala is all set to be privatised. Minister of State for Civil Aviation General V K Singh informed the Lok Sabha on Friday that the government has earmarked 25 airports operated by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for asset monetisation under the National Monetisation Pipeline over the next four years. The airports include Kozhikode, Coimbatore, Madurai and Tiruchy.
For asset monetisation, the government has selected airports having annual passenger traffic of more than 4 lakh. The Kozhikode airport had handled 32,29,910 passengers between 2019 and 2020. The Kerala government is yet to respond to the announcement.
The Kozhikode airport --- located 28km away from the city --- began operations on April 13, 1988. It is one of the three tabletop airports in the country. Though there is a proposal to extend its runway --- currently only 2,700m --- land acquisition remains a major concern. Due to the limitations, operating wide-bodied aircraft has always been a challenge.
Operation of wide-bodied aircraft was suspended on August 7, 2020, after an Air India Express flight from Dubai carrying 190 passengers overshot the runway and plunged into a 35-foot gorge killing 21 people and leaving 84 others injured. The operation of wide-bodied aircraft was banned from May 2015 and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation gave a no-objection certificate with stringent conditions in 2018.
“Airport disinvestment need not be seen as a bad strategy. It can help improve efficacy. On the positive side, it can accelerate the development of the Malabar region. The Kozhikode airport is a tabletop airport and the short runway is a drawback. Land acquisition has been a big challenge. Let us hope the new operator succeeds in addressing these issues. The government has taken a bold decision. The negative side could be the rising risk of monopolisation like what happened at Thiruvananthapuram,” said former Director-General of Civil Aviation E K Bharat Bhushan.