Saturday, June 30, 2018

Udan scheme: Uncertainty hovers over development of airstrips for promoting connectivity in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram: Even as the state is bracing up to pull its Kannur airport out of the UDAN scheme, no decisive step has yet been taken to develop the airstrips and airfields conceived to promote regional connectivity in the state. Though CIAL has been instructed to hold a feasibility study, it has been dragging its feet citing the government order lacks clarity.  The state government decision to drop Kannur airport out of the UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) scheme, the Regional Connectivity Scheme of the Centre aimed at making air travel affordable, also sheds light on the poor management of aviation affairs in Kerala.

More so as the state continues to lack an exclusive department for aviation despite having four international airports under its belt, including the soon to be functional Kannur airport. A senior IAS officer well-versed in aviation matters said, “I don’t know who recommended the government to include Kannur airport under the UDAN scheme as it is aimed at putting unused airports and unserved regions on the aviation map.” No international airport, he said, can be included under UDAN as the scheme offers monopoly for the airlines on routes awarded under it. “The unused airport near Calicut University and airstrips to be constructed in select regions can be considered under it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the uncertainty over conducting a feasibility study for the proposed airstrips in the state and the decision to develop another international airport in Sabarimala have cast a shadow over the dream of flying at a rate cheaper than Rs 2,500 under UDAN. That despite the industry’s fervent demands to develop airstrips and airfields to tap the sector’s growing potential. Complicating matters further, the Louis Berger Consulting Pvt Ltd - consultant for a techno-economic feasibility study and an environment impact study for the proposed greenfield airport at Sabarimala - reportedly submitted a report in favour of an international airport.
IATA Agents Association of India president Biji Eapen said, considering the nature of traffic from Kerala, airports have been chiefly catering to international passengers. For UDAN, the state has to develop airstrips and airfields in areas where no full-fledged airport is operational. “Developing airstrips, airfields and small feeder airports will further promote short distance air travel and act as a hub and spoke model for air traffic in the state. The thrust will be on developing facilities capable of serving the state’s cause,” said Jacob K Philip, an aviation analyst who conducted pre-feasibility study for the Cochin Airport in 1991. 
30/06/18 Dhinesh Kallungal/New Indian Express

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