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Chennai Airport-Ready for a rapid take off...
For over four years the Chennai airport has been going through a massive transformation. There has been a lot of construction activity progressing round the clock. In recent month, one could witness changes almost every week, like a child growing by the day and these amidst 24X7 operations.

Over 1500 days of exacting, round-the-clock work

S Bhaduri, Executive Director (Engineering)

“WITH SEVERE constraints in working at a busy brownfield airport; of acquiring land in time; of shifting facilities in operation; of operating construction equipment at optimum levels- all made exacting demands,” said S Bhaduri, Executive Director(Engineering), Chennai Airport project of AAI.

Bhaduri brings with him rich experience of handling airport construction. He said that each project brings with it, its own challenges and demands. “We thought we would hand over the project site in two to three phases but the domestic terminal alone demanded six phases; international terminal involved seven more phases and elevated corridor another 11 phases. The city side area is narrow and we could hand this to the contractor with a lot of strain. We are aware of the inconvenience caused to the passengers; unfortunately we were helpless,” said Bhaduri. Construction involved positioning a lot of heavy equipment like cranes, dozers, boom lifts, concrete pumps, etc. Taking these near the operational area was difficult and their manoeuvring capacity was much reduced. There were also issues of safety.
THERE ARE SEVERE constraints in expanding an existing busy airport. Also, unlike in most developed countries, international airports in India operate 24x7. There is no option of closure for construction work. The new airports at Bengaluru, Hyderabad and the swanky new Terminal 3 at Delhi, for instance, did not suffer from this handicap.

Problems that persisted

There were other severe constraints like land acquisition: from the Defence Ministry that had a lot of communication installations; from crowded suburbs and villages; and of a National Highway and a rail line on the eastern side right in front of the existing airport . The original plan of the state government to persuade residents in the nearby suburbs to part with their lands even at handsome compensation was not fruitful.

A few decades ago this part of Chennai had a large number of small hills with hard rock. Several of these have vanished to meet the insatiable appetite for building materials, but this has left hard rocky stones underneath which made laying foundation extremely difficult. With active air traffic, blasting was not a solution.

Thus it appears a miracle to have completed the construction of this new air terminal for domestic passengers on the eastern side of the existing facilities and another in the west for the international passengers.

Airports Authority of India (AAI), entrusted with this task can take pride in completing this at a cost of Rs 2015 crore.

Boom in air travel

Chennai Airport had its beginning in the early 1950s when Air India started operating flights from Mumbai. The first passenger terminal was built further North at Meenambakkam. In 1998 a new terminal complex was built at Trisulam, south of the then existing terminal, which had been converted into an air cargo complex. The boom in air traffic witnessed post 2000 pointed to the urgent need to expand. From 3.65 million passengers handled in 1999-2000, it shot up to 13.13 million passengers during 2011-12. With its strong industrial concentration, Chennai has also emerged the second largest airport in terms of handling cargo. Daily aircraft movements exceed 330. Air cargo handled amounted to around 400,000 tonnes with domestic cargo accounting for a fourth of this. The airport has been able to handle large aircraft like the Boeing 747.

The boom in air travel, escpecially west bound and east bound foreign travel, has resulted in a massive expansion of the number of flights. Over a dozen foreign airlines and all major domestic airlines and special cargo carriers utilise the airport.
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