By Jacob K Philip
The recent awarding of Environmental Clearance for the controversial airport project at Aranmula, Kerala, is nothing less than a joke.
The gist of the proposal, M/s KGS Aranmula Airport Ltd had placed before Ministry of Environment & Forests was this:
“Development of Airport at Mallappuzhasserry, Aranmula and Kidangannur villages, Kozhencherry Taluk, Patthanamthitta District, Kerala on a plot area of 500 Acres to cater to air bus A – 300 aircraft. The length of the run-way in the first phase will be 2800 mtr. x 45 mtr. Construction will have G+1 floor of terminal building of 1250 sq.m. in phase I and 15000 sq.m. in phase II.”
And what the Ministry now permits to build?
From the approval letter the ministry has sent to the promoters:
10. SPECIFIC CONDITIONS:
(iii) Though the site is not a wetland, in view of the presence of various plants species, Proponent shall fill only minimum area required for runway, apron,taxiway etc and the remaining area will be preserved in its natural form as committed. Only the area required for runway 1000 x 150 mts shall be filled with 1 mt height…”
That is, the total length of the runway basic strip is only 1000 m. Because it is mandatory to leave 90 m on both ends of the runway as RESA (Runway End Safety Area), the total effective length of the runway will be 180 m less.
So what is the length of runway KGS people are actually getting instead of the 2800 m they asked for ?
Just this much: 1000-180 = 820 m
And what kind of an aircraft will be able operate from this 820 m runway?
That is the most difficult question the promoters will have to find an answer for themselves- that is, if they really are determined to build an airport at Aranmula.
The smallest aircraft scheduled airlines have in these parts of the world is ATR-42-300. The minimum runway length (Take off field length) required for this 45 seater turbo prop aircraft is 1040 m. But this is for a runway at sea level altitude, with no wind along the runway and with an atmospheric temperature of 15 degrees Celsius. When the temperature and elevation are higher, runway length required would be more. With wind also, the aircraft would require to run longer.
So the only option left for the airlines would be to operate the ATR with a load penalty – that is with reduced capacity.
And in India, how many airlines operate ATR-42-300 aircraft?
Only Air India.
The maximum distance the aircraft can fly non-stop is only 840 Nautical Miles (1556 km). So there is no question of international operations.
And can KGS expand the airport after a few years of operation, so that airlines could operate aircraft like A300 from here to foreign destinations?
The answer is a firm no.
See these two paragraphs from the MoEF letter:
“Proponent shall fill only minimum area required for runway, apron, taxiway etc and the remaining area will be preserved in its natural form as committed. ”
“Only minimum area required for runway, apron, taxiway etc would be filled and the remaining area will be preserved in its natural form. The previous owner had filled the runway of 1000 x 150 mts for airstrip. Therefore, only the area required for runway 1000 x 150 mts will be filled to a height of one meter and the soil required forland filling will be met from the elevated area of about 14.5 acres available within the site itself.”
So what really the M/s KGS Aranmula Airport is getting in the end?
A very small airport with 820 m runway from which only Air India operates a few domestic flights. The Terminal building will also be too small because the maximum number of passengers the airport will be handling per day will be some 60-80.
Now see one of the numerous news reports on the proposed International Airport getting MoEF approval:
.. Promoted by KGS Aranmula International Airport Ltd, the Rs 2,000-crore project has witnessed stiff resistance from both the political Opposition and environmentalists…. For the first phase, 500 acres of land have been acquired. Work will start soon and the airport will be ready for commercial operations in December 2015. There is no compulsory eviction of even one cent of land, George reiterated. All land acquired has been bought at market price. An integrated airport city will be developed with a Special Economic Zone. A multispecialty hospital, shopping mall, hotels and an international school are the other planned facilities. George said Malaysian Airport Holdings, Emirates, AD Paris and Changi Singapore are being invited to bid for airport operation. The airport’s ‘influential zone’ will be close to multiple tourism destinations such as Kumarakom and the backwaters of Alappuzha. It is only an hour away from Sabarimala, the second largest pilgrim centre in the country….
(Jacob K Philip is an aviation analyst based at Kochi, India. He also edits Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)