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Scaling new heights

Scaling new heights

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    V. Thulasidas,
    Managing Director,
    Kannur International Airport.

A size wise and population wise smaller state, Kerala added the 4th International Airport to its aviation map. In an interaction with our Executive Editor Renjini Liza Varghese, the Managing Director of Kannur International Airport, V. Thulasidas spoke in length about the journey, the impediments in the making of the airport and the way forward.

Describe the journey of Kannur International Airport from conceptualisation to operationalisation?

Kannur International Airport is the 4th international airport in Kerala and was commissioned on 9 December 2018. International and domestic flights started on the same day from Kannur International Airport.  

This is a dream fulfilled for the people of North Malabar who have been demanding an international airport in Kannur for a very long time.  The ini-tial proposal received a green signal way back in 1997-98 when E K Nayanar was the Chief Minister of Kerala and C M Ibrahim was the Civil Aviation Minister of the country. Though a beginning in the land acquisition was made at that time, the airport project received formal approval of the Govern-ment of India only in 2008 with the approval in principle accorded by the Government.  Kerala Government acquired the land for the airport and also took the initiative in forming this company towards the end of 2009.  Most of the land was acquired, and the construction of the airport started at the beginning of 2014.  The terrain was difficult, and there were heavy rains for almost 6 months every year, but L&T as the contractor of the project did an excellent job in completing the construction in 4 years.  Looking at these constraints, one should feel satisfied that the construction could be completed in 4 years.  And we should be grateful to the people of the area as the land acquisition could be completed without much difficulty, and they put up with difficulties during the period of construction.             

The company, Kannur International Airport Ltd., was set up at the initiative of the Government of Kerala on the model of Cochin International Airport with the State Government committed to holding a minimum of 26 per cent in the equity, rest of the equity was divided among public and private institutions and individuals.  

Kannur district is well known for its art and cultural richness. Could you please elaborate on the interconnection of the design of the airport and the local culture?

Kannur and the entire Malabar region has a rich tradition of art and culture.  Several firsts could be claimed for Malabar, especially Kannur and Thalassery.           

Cricket was played here first;  the first Cake in India was made in Mampally Bakery in Thalassery;  the first Novel in Malayalam was ‘Indulekha’ by Shri O. Chandu Menon who was  from Thalassery;  the first Short Story  ‘ Vasanavikriti’  was published here,  Thalassery is considered the birthplace of Circus;  Kalari (martial art) originated in Malabar, Theyyam,  etc.               

The airport has been designed as a modern airport with state-of-the-art facilities both for passengers and visitors.  However, it has been ensured that the vibrant and rich cultural heritage of Malabar gets adequate representation in the airport.  

In fact,  most passengers and visitors to the airport are fascinated by the display of the cultural heritage of Kerala, especially Malabar,  and that too North Malabar in particular,  and also of the Coorg region of Karnataka.  We have used laterite, locally available material for building houses traditionally, in the construction of the airport.        

What is the total investment and the holding pattern of Kannur International Airport?

Total investment in the project is of the order of Rs 2350 crore.  The initial project cost of Rs1892 crore was met with Rs1000 crore as equity and the balance as a loan from a consortium of banks. The remaining part of the project cost is being achieved through additional equity.       

As mentioned earlier, the Kerala Government is the main sponsor of this project. The minimum equity required from the State Government is 26 per cent, but it holds about 35 per cent now. The remaining equity is divided among a large number of investors, including a few PSUs, other companies, banks, cooperatives, QFIs, individuals, etc.              

What is the annual capacity of the airport?

The airport has been designed to handle 9 million passengers in a year. The peak handling capacity of the terminal building is 2000  passengers per hour.  The airport has provision for accommodating 20 Code- E  aircraft and both the apron/parking stands and the runway are designed for Code – E   aircraft,  with Boeing 777/300 ER as the design aircraft.             

How many airlines operate from this airport now? And how many flights per day?

Only Indian carriers are operating from Kannur International Airport. The Ministry of Civil Aviation is yet to grant permission for foreign airlines to operate from the airport.  All Gulf carriers and a few carriers from South East Asia and SAARC countries have expressed keen interest to operate to Kannur.  Presently, Air India, Air India Express, GoAir and Indigo operate from Kan-nur. The last 3 airlines operate international flights also.          

Currently, there are 50 flights in a day, both departing and arriving flights.           

Having two major airports (Calicut / Mangalore) in the vicinity, how challenging is to get more airlines to operate from this airport?

Kannur International Airport is a new airport that had come up in a virgin area, though Kannur has the distinction of having had flights in the 1930s when Tata Airline used to operate Bombay – Goa – Kannur – Trivandrum flights.  As an international airport,  Kannur has got the distinction of being perhaps the only airport to have begun its existence as an international airport from day one.  The very first flight from the new airport was a flight to Abu Dhabi by Air India Express on 9 December 2018, the day the airport was commissioned.

Any new airport will have to share passengers with other nearby airports.  However, in due course, the existence of an airport will lead to more travel by existing passengers and attract new passengers.  It can also lead to the development of tourism in the catchment area and bringing new passengers to the region.  A new international airport in any part of the country will lead to more significant development of business, commerce and industry.  This will also lead to more travel and more passengers, apart from airport-related economic activities and infrastructure coming up in the hinterland.     

Naturally, it is a challenge for a new airport to break even and,  as an infrastructure project, airports take several years to break even.  This has been the case with Cochin airport.  Kannur has the advantage of having more land area than any other airport in Kerala.  This can help the airport in the years to come to attract a large number of non-aeronautical business units.  All this can help the airport in achieving break even and start earning profits at an earlier date than in the case of other airports.  

As already mentioned,  the main challenge in getting more airlines is the refusal of MOCA to allow operation of foreign airlines from Kannur airport, i.e. to declare Kannur as a  Point of Call for foreign carriers.  We have been requesting the Ministry to allow foreign carriers to operate from Kannur as and when they have bilateral rights to operate more flights.   We have also requested the Ministry to bring Kannur within the ASEAN Open Sky Policy.

What would be the optimum number of operations per day?

Currently, the airport is using only 20 per cent of its capacity.  The opti-mum number of operations per day should be around 250 to 275 operations.               

When do you see this would be achieved?

As for break even,  we are targeting to reach that milestone within 3 to  5 years.  We have retained KPMG as our business consultants with this objec-tive.  We are confident that MoCA will grant  Point of Call status to Kannur Airport without further delay.   

Does this airport have a dedicated air freight holding area? What is the annual capacity?

For air freight, the airport has completed construction of the first cargo complex and is now building the second and larger cargo complex.  While the smaller one will be used for both international and domestic cargo, to begin with, the larger cargo complex will be an exclusive international cargo complex.  The capacity of the cargo complexes will be 49000 tonnes.             

What is your roadmap for the airport for the next 5 years?

As outlined in the answers to previous questions, we plan to break even in less than 5 years and also achieve 5 million passengers within that period.  We also expect that the airport will have all the required infrastructure   like hotels,  convention centre, airport village, etc. during this pe-riod.

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