Saturday, June 20, 2020

Why an airport at Sabarimala when Kerala fights pandemic?

Thiruvananthapuram: When the state government is mobilising resources from all quarters to fight the Covid pandemic, the move to set up a full-fledged fifth international greenfield airport at Sabarimala raises eyebrows. First, the fourth international airport set up in Kannur is yet to emerge as economically viable project. Among the reasons for Kannur airport not being able to realise its full potential, the first issue is that the Centre is not ready to grand the ‘point of call status’ to any more airports in the country, as Indian carriers may be adversely affected. If only the status is given, foreign airlines can operate to and from the airport.

According to sources, the Kannur airport which set an ambitious target of `400 crore revenue in the last fiscal not only fell short, but is even struggling to meet its operational revenue target needed for maintain normal operations. Meanwhile, the customs department has made it clear that the airport owes it around `3 crore. After it served several notices on the airport company, the arrears of up to March were cleared recently. Normally, the airport company will have to make advance payment to the customs department to avail its service at the airport. Not only customs, the company also owes payment to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) which provides security services at the airport, sources said.

Second, the Civil Aviation Ministry statistics show that passenger volume at the existing four international airports in the state for the 2018-19 fiscal was just around 60 per cent of its total terminal capacity, the lowest in the country. Kerala’s four international airports have a combined terminal capacity of 30 million passengers per year, but they saw only 18.14 million passengers last fiscal. Third, the cash-strapped state is in dire straits to meet its daily expenditure and it even promulgated an ordinance for deferring the payment of six days’ salary of government employees and hiked liquor duty by 35 per cent to mop up revenue for fighting the pandemic.

Leave alone these facts, the state does not need a full-fledged international airport in Sabarimala. “An airstrip or small feeder airport is enough to meet the requirement of the pilgrims. Instead of developing more international airports, the state should channel the air traffic to the existing four airports from various destinations inside the state by setting up airstrips,” said Biji Eapen, IATA Agents Association of India president.
20/06/20 Dhinesh Kallungal/New Indian Express
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