IT MARKED A quantum jump in Chennai airport’s capacity to handle air passengers, from the present 9 million (6 million domestic and 3 million international) by an additional 14 million (10 million more domestic and 4 million more international passengers per annum) represents a 150 per cent increase in capacity. With rapid growth in air travel, even this added capacity is bound to reach saturation levels in the next five years. The second green field international airport is being planned at Sriperumbudur, some 40 km west of the city. Chennai thus has the prospect of being the first metro to have two large airports.
Vice President Ansari referred to this premier international gateway, the air hub of south India gaining greater importance in view of India’s Look East policy. This renowned ex-officer of the Indian Foreign Service pointed to greater economic and commercial integration of India with countries of East Asia and South East Asia taking place at a rapid pace: “Passenger and air freight traffic, to and from these countries is bound to rise. With Chennai being the natural gateway due to geographical proximity, the upgraded modernisation of the airport is timely and appropriate,” he said.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh expressed happiness over the new terminals. The elegant and modern new terminals with innovative design, apart from a big jump in passenger capacity, will also be able to handle 11 lakh metric tonnes of air cargo, nearly four times the present capacity of 3.2 lakh tonnes. Singh pointed to the sophisticated storage and retrieval system installed that would help in the quick turnaround of cargo.
The minister also pointed to the secondary runway capable of handling 40 aircraft movements per hour from the present 30 aircraft movements per hour. The minister also referred to the liberalised open sky policy of the government contributing to a phenomenal growth, making India one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world. Singh also pointed to ample opportunities in the cargo, ground handling and MRO segments.
AAI chairman, V P Agrawal referred to new facilities built over an area of 1.33 lakh sq m at the cost of Rs 2325 crore. Chennai Airport facilities are among the best in the world and Agrawal pointed to some of the unique features of the newly constructed terminal:
- One of the largest over-hangs in airport terminals across the world.
- One of India’s greenest airport terminals.
- The future multi-model interchange hub consisting of air, rail, road and metro connectivity.
- The extended runway will be able to handle even the large Airbus A380 aircraft.
- The new facilities have the Departure facilities in the top tier and the Arrivals two tiers below with easy link to surface transport as in large international airports, providing for ease of movements.
- For the first time in AAI, 110KV supply has been availed from TNEB which is routed through gas insulated Panels.
- The terminal buildings are air conditioned through multiple chillers of capacity as high as 2500T each.
- Baggage handling system has been provided which can be integrated with In-line x ray baggage screening system and 4 level checks.
A measure of growth over the last two decades
Chennai Airport had its large expansion in May 1989 when a Rs 18 crore new international passenger terminal to handle a million passenger a year was commissioned. Chennai was the first metro to have domestic and international terminals situated side by side.
With the plan to extend the Chennai metro rail to the airport the ease of commuting to the city will expand manifold. As pointed out by AAI Member S Raheja, construction activity had to be done amidst severe constraints. There were serious issues relating to land acquisitions and severe limitations of working space. Executive Director S Bahduri cited an instance of a large communication centre of the defence ministry that needed to be shifted without disturbing live operations. With severe constraint of space for movement of equipment and with fuel storage tanks and aircraft just across, extra care had to be taken.
Airport Director H S Suresh should also be happy over the provision for lot of greenery. One may also look forward to a lot of traditional south Indian art as part of the interior décor.